Abe vows to help Philippines improve infrastructure
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte agreed Monday in Tokyo to work in close coordination to step up pressure on North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile development, but appeared to differ on the prospect of dialogue with the North.
"We condemn these tests and call on all concerned stakeholders to return to the negotiating table to peacefully resolve the situation," Duterte said at a joint press appearance after his meeting with Abe, during which they also agreed on infrastructure, counterterrorism and public safety initiatives.
Abe, meanwhile, said that he and Duterte had agreed to "cooperate to address common issues," including North Korea. The Japanese leader has repeatedly prioritized putting pressure on Pyongyang over engaging in talks, saying dialogue for dialogue's sake is meaningless.
A Japanese government spokesman said afterward that Abe and Duterte shared an awareness of the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear and missile programs and affirmed the importance of the thorough implementation of relevant U.N. sanctions.
With the Philippines set to host the Association of Southeast Asian Nations leaders' summit next month, Abe said Japan will provide "maximum support" for the success of the meeting. For Tokyo, a successful ASEAN summit would include commitments to making progress on territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
The spokesman said Abe and Duterte "discussed" the issues of maritime security and freedom of navigation, including in the South China Sea, but declined to elaborate further.
While Japan is not a claimant in the disputes between China, the Philippines and four other governments in the South China Sea, it worries about the impact of China's expansionary activities on crucial shipping lanes and faces a separate claim by Beijing to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
Although Abe and Duterte reached a limited consensus in public on regional issues, they were effusive about bilateral relations.
Following the leaders' fourth sit-down meeting since Duterte took office in June last year, they released a joint statement detailing how they will spend the 1 trillion yen ($8.8 billion) over five years from Japan's public and private sectors that Abe pledged during his visit to the Philippines in January.
Japan's assistance to the Philippines reflects the importance it places on maintaining bilateral ties as a counter to China's expanding regional influence, with Abe saying he and Duterte affirmed their cooperation toward a "free and open Indo-Pacific."
According to the Japanese Foreign Ministry, Abe pledged up to 113.9 billion yen in yen loans for the first phase of the Manila subway project and a bypass road project in the capital, known for its traffic congestion.
"(The plan) covers huge impact and high value infrastructure projects that my country needs to sustain and spur our economic growth," Duterte said.
Abe also pledged further assistance for the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, where Duterte is from.
The leaders' meeting came on the heels of the Philippine government's declaration of victory over militants inspired by the Islamic State extremist group after a five-month battle in Marawi, a city in Mindanao.
"I express my heartfelt respect for President Duterte's leadership in light of the declaration of the liberation of Marawi, and will fully support his efforts from here on in the fight against terrorism and for Mindanao's stability and development," Abe said.
According to the joint statement, Japan will initially provide equipment for reconstruction before considering further help in line with a survey of the area's needs to be conducted by the Philippine government.
Japan will also support counterterrorism efforts to prevent extremist groups in the vein of IS from taking hold in Asia. Counterterrorism is a key factor for Japan in its planning for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
The assistance announced Monday also includes the improvement of the Philippines' coastal surveillance capabilities to "ensure effective cooperation" of patrol vessels provided by Japan.
According to the statement, the leaders also agreed that Japan will help prevent the use of illegal drugs in the Philippines and relapses by users under a medium- and long-term plan. This cooperation fits in with Duterte's war on drugs, which has drawn criticism from human rights advocates overseas.
On Tuesday, Duterte will meet with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. According to a Japanese government source, the planned meeting initially raised concern among some in the Japanese government due to the Philippine president's past controversial remarks and behavior.
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