MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III and New Zealand Prime John Key witnessed the signing of a deal on defense cooperation amid the Philippines’ territorial row with China.
During a two-day visit to New Zealand, Aquino met with Key at The Beehive of New Zealand’s Parliament in the capital Wellington on Tuesday, October 23.
Aquino and Key witnessed the signing of 3 deals including a memorandum of agreement concerning defense cooperation.
During a joint press conference, Key said New Zealand does not take sides in the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China but encourages a peaceful solution to the issue.
Key said defense cooperation between Manila and Wellington will yield “real benefits.”
“Our military forces working together and training together is very positive,” said Key. “Obviously, peace and stability in the South China Sea is critical because Asia is the fastest growing partner of the world …. Anything that disrupts its growth will have implications for the New Zealand economy so we think peace and stability is extremely important.”
Aquino said the deal should not be seen as offensive to China because the Philippines is just seeking to increase its capability to defend itself against any threat.
“There is need for [an] exchange of information and abilities to enhance each one’s abilities,” Aquino said.
The Philippine leader, however, said New Zealand supports the Philippines’ position to settle the dispute through a rules-based approach. Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario has said that a rules-based approach involves “a comprehensive foreign policy approach that involves action in the political, diplomatic and legal tracks.”
Aquino said, “[We need] a system where peaceful resolution of disputes should be to everybody’s interest to foster and to make a reality and towards that end, we thank New Zealand amongst others that have joined in the voice to having a rules-based approach in settling all of these disputes.”
The Philippines is locked in a dispute with China over territories in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea). Ties between the two countries were strained following a standoff over Scarborough Shoal but high-level talks have since resumed.
‘Experience culture, exchange expertise’
The two other agreements signed during Aquino’s visit are a geothermal energy cooperation agreement and the working holiday scheme.
Aquino said the Philippines is second in the world in exploiting geothermal resources and can use New Zealand’s expertise in improving facilities and methods.
In an earlier speech before the Philippines-New Zealand Business Forum, Aquino urged businessmen to invest in geothermal energy in the Philippines.
“I understand that we still have somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 megawatts of untapped geothermal resources and we can maximize these …. Our Department of Energy has an investment promotion program entitled the Open and Competitive Selection Process, in which geothermal energy prospects are offered to private investors for bidding.”
In the press briefing with Key, the Philippine president explained that the working holiday scheme will help boost tourism and cultural exchange for both countries.
“The idea more is in the scheme of having experienced the different culture and environment that hopefully both sides will be able to imbibe the positive attributes to both our cultures and our peoples,” Aquino said.
In separate meetings with New Zealand companies, Malacañang said Aquino also witnessed the signing of investment agreements with the following:
- Energy Development Corp, which is involved in the exploration and production of water-based steam power and generation of electricity for commercial use
- GNS Science Memorandum of Agreement
- Alliance Select Foods International, exporter of canned tuna and smoked salmon products with the main processing plant in General Santos City in the Philippines
- Akaroa Salmon New Zealand Limited, producer of king salmon that caters to high-end hotels and fine-dining restaurants in New Zealand
- New Zealand-Philippine Business Council and Philippines-New Zealand Business Council memorandum of agreement
NZ investment for PH dairy industry
Key also said in the press briefing that New Zealand is pledging to invest in the Philippines in a span of 5 years to help Manila develop its own dairy industry.
“As I understand it, 99% of your dairy consumption is imported so you’re a very small domestic producer but like all countries in Asia that we see who are undergoing significant economic growth, the likely demand for dairy products and for protein in general is rising quite rapidly.”
Key said New Zealand will help the Philippines build its capacity to service its own domestic market.
Dairy products are New Zealand’s top exports to the Philippines, its third largest market for the goods.
Key also said New Zealand companies will engage in outsourcing activities in the Philippines.
Aquino caps off his visit to New Zealand with a state dinner to be hosted by Governor-General Jerry Mateparae. He will then fly to Canberra, Australia to meet with Prime Minister Julia Gillard. – Rappler.com
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