MANILA, Philippines – In a move seen to agitate Beijing, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III will brief Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the Southeast Asian country’s historic case against China over the disputed South China Sea.
Aquino will do this when he visits Japan on Tuesday, June 24, to deliver a speech on the Mindanao peace process and to discuss “recent regional developments,” among other things, with Abe.
“It’s very important for the President to brief the Japanese side on the arbitration case that we filed against China. I’m sure the President will be updating the Prime Minister on the status of our case,” Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Charles Jose said in a media briefing Friday, June 20.
Jose initially declined to categorically confirm if Aquino and Abe will discuss China, and said the two leaders “can talk about anything that they want.”
He later said, “We can see so much developments in the South China Sea, East China Sea, so I’m sure they will be sharing views and exchanging views on the issue.”
The two leaders will discuss maritime cooperation, humanitarian assistance, disaster response, promotion of trade and investments, people-to-people exchanges, and the Mindanao peace process.
“The meeting is an opportunity for the two leaders to exchange views on recent regional developments and to discuss areas of cooperation to enhance our strategic partnership,” Jose added.
Philippines, Japan facing China
Aquino’s visit will only last for a day, as he is set to deliver the keynote speech at the Consolidation for Peace for Mindanao Conference in Hiroshima, Japan.
His visit to Japan comes as both Manila and Tokyo remain embroiled in maritime disputes with Beijing.
The Philippines, on one hand, is challenging China’s expansive claims over the South China Sea, parts of which the Southeast Asian country claims as the West Philippine Sea.
It is pursuing a case against China before an arbitral tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration. (READ: Experts debunk China’s claim on defying int’l rulings)
It has also filed diplomatic protests against China’s activities, most recently the Asian giant’s reclamation projects in the South China Sea.
Relations between Japan and China, on the other hand, have plummeted over their competing claims to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands in the East China Sea.
Last week alone, Japan summoned the Chinese ambassador after a near miss involving fighter jets from the two nations near the islands, which China calls the Diaoyus.
Moves detested by China
In July 2013, Aquino and Abe already met about a shared concern in apparent reference to China – in the Japanese leader’s words, “a strategic interest of making the Asia-Pacific region a free and open region, not by coercion or intimidation, but by the rule of law.”
Abe then pledged 4 forms of assistance to the Philippines that included improving the capabilities of the Philippine Coast Guard.
An analyst saw the meeting in 2013 as an “image-building” move against an aggressive Beijing.
The new meeting between Aquino and Abe is expected to agitate China because it rejects third-party involvement in resolving disputes.
It has instead stressed one-on-one talks with the countries involved – viewed as a lopsided approach as far as the Philippines is concerned, because China is its third biggest trading partner.
Even as China detests multilateral moves, however, countries in the region have begun to work more closely to curb China’s moves in the South China Sea. (READ: Philippines to press ‘gas pedal’ vs sea tensions) – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com