PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have reaffirmed their countries’ commitment to uphold freedom of navigation in the disputed South China Sea, a vital shipping lane for Southeast Asian nations.
Duterte and Abe had “a productive and fruitful” bilateral meeting on Thursday after the closing of the 33rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit in Singapore.
“Both leaders also discussed issues pertaining to the disputed South China Sea, during which PRRD stressed the Philippines’ commitment to uphold the principles of freedom of navigation and overflight, freedom of commerce and other lawful activities, exercise of self-restraint, and the peaceful resolution of disputes,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a statement yesterday.
Japan, unlike the Philippines, is not a claimant in the South China Sea but considers the disputed waterway as a vital sea lane for trade in the region.
China has sweeping claims in the South China Sea but the ASEAN has raised “concerns” over the reclamation and militarization in the disputed area.
Aside from the maritime row, Abe hailed the Philippines for passing the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), “as he conveyed Japan’s intention to strengthen cooperation in line with the progress of the peace process.”
Duterte, meanwhile, thanked Japan for contributing to the peace and development in Mindanao, particularly in the rehabilitation of Marawi City.
Panelo said Abe “reaffirmed Japan’s continued support for the Philippine government’s ‘Build Build Build’ Infrastructure Program, to which President Duterte expressed his gratitude.”