Friday, June 5, 2015

Philippines, Japan eyeing possible Visiting Forces Agreement

From InterAksyon (Jun 5): Philippines, Japan eyeing possible Visiting Forces Agreement

President Aquino with Japanese Prime Minister Abe in their bilateral talks Thursday. Reuters photo.

The Philippines and Japan are looking to forge a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), similar to what Manila has with the United States and Australia, as part of the expanded cooperation in defense and maritime security that President Aquino and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe discussed on Thursday.

President Aquino confirmed this to journalists at a final press conference with the Japanese National Press Club, before departing Tokyo for Manila on Friday. referring to his talks on Thursday with Mr. Abe, Aquino said that "it was discussed yesterday [Thursday] during our summit meeting with the Prime Minister that the relevant entities will start discussions, leading up to a Visiting Forces Agreement."

The President responded to a question from a reporter from Reuters who asked about the issue of Japan extending its defense footprint.

Among the possible scenarios, it was pointed out, were "doing maritime patrols in the South China Sea — possibly more patrols, possibly more naval activities there ... [for Japan] to be able to refuel their aircraft in the Philippines, or perhaps use naval bases."

Aquino said: "The Visiting Forces Agreement will have to be passed and approved by our Senate, but we will be starting discussions on all of the details embodied in this."

Currently, the Philippines only has two Visiting Forces Agreement — one with the United States of America and the most recently passed, the one with Australia, Aquino told reporters.

He added thaht Manila welcomes "this development [possible VFA with Japan]. We have only two strategic partners, the US and Japan. As I have stated previously, it does not behoove a good partnership or relationship if you are not able to work at interoperability with the other."

Aquino elaborated: "An agreement that even for humanitarian concerns exists only on paper will not be effective when there comes a time that you would need to be in coordination, and in cooperation, or in joint cooperation with your strategic partners.

"So, yes, the Philippines does welcome this development and we will be initiating all of the diplomatic requirements to come up with a Visiting Forces Agreement."

On the subject of territorial tensions and Chinese reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea, Aquino suggested that the Chinese authorities could "revisit the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea" that China had signed with ASEAN in 2002.  Manila has been pushing for a binding Code of Conduct ever since, but has been foiled at every turn by Beijing.

"And the other aspect is if the situation were reversed, would they accept not meddling in, you know ... If China's and the Philippines' position were reversed, would they accept the advice that they are now telling countries as small as ours?"

[Video report]

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