MANILA – Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has lauded the Philippines’ “principled position” on the 2016 arbitral ruling that President Rodrigo Duterte uttered at the High-Level General Debate of the 75th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September last year.
Suga conveyed his appreciation in a “productive” 20-minute phone conversation with Duterte on Wednesday.
“Prime Minister Suga, meantime, expressed appreciation for the Philippines’ principled position clearly articulated by President Duterte during the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly on the 2016 Arbitral Ruling,” the Office of the President (OP) said in a statement.
Duterte stressed the need for nations to cooperate on promoting maritime domain awareness, maritime security, and safety, freedom of navigation and overflight, and maritime connectivity and commerce.
“At the same time, he (Duterte) underlined the need to recognize and work for the peaceful settlement of disputes, stating that the Asia-Pacific region cannot afford conflicts between neighbors,” the OP statement read.
Duterte added that alliances and partnerships must redound to greater stability in the South China Sea and uphold the broader collective interest of the Asia-Pacific region.
“While recognizing the importance of the Arbitral Ruling, Prime Minister Suga also expressed concern over developments in the East and South China Seas,” the OP said.
Both leaders agreed to work closely to ensure security and stability in the region under the rule of law.
To secure the area against piracy, terrorism, and other transnational crimes, Duterte stressed the importance of continuing cooperation in the Sulu and the Celebes Sea.
The two leaders then stated their intent to ramp up cooperation in these waters.
In his maiden speech before the UNGA virtual high-level meeting, Duterte affirmed the Philippines’ commitment on the peaceful settlement of the South China Sea dispute in accordance with the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration’s (PCA) ruling that rejected China’s expansive maritime claims in the disputed territory.
Duterte said the PCA ruling “is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon.”
“We firmly reject attempts to undermine it,” Duterte said.
His speech was praised by current and former Cabinet members and government officials as well as critics.
Amid the prevailing health crisis, Suga also conveyed his regrets on the postponement of his official visit to the Philippines due to Japan’s domestic Covid-19 situation.
Last month, Suga announced that he has decided to postpone his visit to the Philippines to focus on a recent surge in Covid-19 cases in his country.
Duterte expressed full support of the decision and stressed that the Philippines stands in solidarity with the Japanese people in facing the pandemic.
He also thanked Japan for its generous Covid-19 assistance to the Philippines, including 20 billion yen approval out of the 50 billion yen Post-Disaster Standby Loan and 1 billion yen more for cold chain development assistance.
Suga recognized and expressed support for the Philippine Government’s efforts to address the pandemic.
Both leaders also reaffirmed commitment to further strengthen bilateral ties and build on the achievements of 65 years of normalized relations and 10 years of Strengthened Strategic Partnership between the Philippines and Japan, two milestones set to be celebrated this year.
Partner for dev’t
In the same phone call, Duterte said Japan’s increased engagement in the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-the Philippines East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) is key to revitalizing socio-economic growth and promoting security in the Sulu and Celebes Seas.
He described Japan as an “unrivaled partner for peace and development in Mindanao” and thanked Japan’s support for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Mindanao transition process, stating further that joint socio-economic development initiatives will benefit peace-loving Mindanaoans.
Duterte also thanked Suga for his support in the Build, Build, Build program which the latter described as “a lasting legacy to be remembered for years to come.”
Suga said Japan will continue this key area of partnership with the Philippines, recognizing Duterte’s assertion that projects such as the first Manila Subway will significantly improve the quality of life and productivity of Filipinos.
Both leaders expressed concern over developments in Myanmar and agreed to work closely together to support efforts to improve the situation in the country.
Duterte and Suga said they looked forward to seeing each other in Manila as soon as circumstances allow to renew and reaffirm the Philippines-Japan Strategic Partnership and valuable ties of “friends closer than brothers.” (PNA)