Japan PM Abe at Duterte home in Davao, the Philippines on Jan. 12. Photographer: The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images
MANILA (Kyodo) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged a 1 trillion yen ($8.7 billion) aid package, including government aid and public investments, for the Philippines over the next five years to help its infrastructure development, in a bid to strengthen strategic ties with the key nation in the Asia-Pacific region amid China's growing presence.
"We will leverage Japanese technology and know-how to the fullest extent to positively cooperate for the improvement of infrastructure in Metro Manila and the whole of the Philippines," said Abe in a joint press conference in Manila after meeting with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.
Abe is the first foreign head of government to visit the country since Duterte took power last June and met Duterte for the third time.
Abe and Duterte said they agreed to enhance maritime and security cooperation in their talks at the Malacanang Palace. Abe said China's military buildup in disputed waters of the South China Sea influences regional peace and stability, and is a global concern.
"We will continue to forge ahead with our efforts to advance the rule of law in order to secure the waters in our region," Duterte said. "As maritime nations, the Philippines and Japan have a shared interest in keeping our waters safe and secure from threats of any kind."
The two countries agreed to establish a joint committee to expedite Japan's involvement in infrastructural development in the fast-growing Southeast Asian nation, Abe said. Such an effort by Tokyo is also apparently aimed at thwarting China's growing influence on the Philippines.
Abe also said Japan will provide support for rehabilitation facilities for drug addicts in the Philippines.
The Philippines is Abe's first stop of his four-nation tour since Thursday. He will also visit Australia, Indonesia and Vietnam.
Abe hopes that the Philippines, a key maritime nation in the Asia-Pacific region, remains committed to an alliance with the United States in maintaining regional peace and stability, and countering the growing assertiveness of China at sea, Japanese officials said.
Duterte, a former Davao mayor and prosecutor, has reacted angrily when Washington aired concerns about extrajudicial killings in Duterte's anti-drug campaign.
Duterte has also resumed talks with China, the world's second-largest economy, to boost cooperation and signaled he is prepared to set aside territorial disputes with the nation in the South China Sea.
Abe's meeting with Duterte at Malacanang Palace in Manila comes ahead of Donald Trump's inauguration as U.S. president on Jan. 20. It is unclear whether the Philippines' relations with the United States will mend under the incoming Trump administration, analysts said.
Abe also promised Japan's full support for the Philippines in chairing a series of meetings involving the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year, expecting their efforts to address the South China Sea issue will be high on agenda.
Japan is not a claimant in the South China Sea disputes between China, the Philippines and four other governments, but it is concerned about China's rising military presence in the resource-rich area and busy shipping lanes.
Tokyo also faces challenges from Beijing related to China's claim to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
During the Abe-Duterte summit, Japan and the Philippines exchanged papers on Japan providing high-speed boats to the Philippine Coast Guard in a bid to enhance maritime safety. The offer was announced by Abe when Duterte visited Japan last October.
Tokyo will also aid flood prevention work in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao where Duterte is from.
Abe and Duterte will meet for breakfast at the Philippine president's home in Davao in Mindanao on Friday, the officials said, as Abe seeks to build a close personal relationship of trust with him. Abe will become the first sitting foreign leader to visit Davao, the officials said. – The Mainichi