On closer cooperation between Japan and the Philippines

Minister Ichita Yamamoto, in charge of Okinawan affairs, ocean policy and territorial issues, Thursday met with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin. He had earlier met with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario, and visited Subic and Clark.

He had a “frank discussion” with Gazmin over territorial claims, particularly Japan’s claims over the Senkaku islands, which is contested by China, but refused to give details. No, he said they did not discuss the US troops now in Okinawa.

This is a transcript of the press conference he gave after the meeting. He spoke in Japanese, which was translated into English by a staff from the Japanese embassy.

This is Ichita Yamamoto, the cabinet minister in Abe administration. I had the honor to visit the Philippines as the minister in charge of Okinawan affairs, ocean policy and territorial issues. Yesterday I made a visit to Subic and Clark area and got a briefing by the respective agency about the utilization of former American bases.  Also I had a meeting with Foreign Secretary Del Rosario and Defense Secretary Gazmin and we had a discussion on territorial issues and ocean policies. I would like to convey my sincere gratitude for the cooperation of the Philippine government and Clark and Subic economic zones and their heartwarming welcomes.
In Clark and Subic, I learned how both zones have been utilizing the former American bases and trying to attract investment as well as diversifying its industrial complexes. I had a chance to get very insightful information by this visit to Clark and Subic, because I’m a minister in charge of Okinawan affairs, and in Okinawa the utilization of former American bases has become a very important agenda.  As a minister in charge, I would like to promote this agenda in close cooperation with relevant municipalities.
In my meeting with foreign secretary and defense secretary, I clearly and precisely explained Japan’s positions on Senkaku Islands.
Please allow me to refrain from the details of the discussion we had since we had a very frank discussion, however we agreed upon that any country should not try to change the status quo unilaterally by force. We also agreed that rule of law is very important in this region and in maritime domain. We also agreed that establishment of rule of law is a very important agenda which requires the close cooperation between Japan and the Philippines and we would like to continue to cooperate with the Philippines in order to send a strong messages to international community.

Q&A:
Nikko dizon, PDI: What are the most important points that you discussed with the Defense Secretary?
A: Defense Secretary Gazmin told me the concern we shared, the Philippine situation and  Philippines’ concern, and we had a very frank discussion. The most important point that I believe is that we shared the view that any country should not pursue to change the status quo unilaterally by force. Also the establishment of the rule of law is very very important and also we agreed that both country should cooperate together with each other to continue to send strong messages to international community.

Johnna giolagon, Asahi Shimbun: We’d like to know how the presence of American troops in Okinawa helped Japan, maybe increase…did it serve as any leverage in preserving the territorial integrity of Japan? With the Americans negotiating with the Philippines on increased presence here, how do you think the presence of the US will help Philippines project and protect territorial integrity in the South China Sea?
A: I would like to refrain from making detailed comments because I understand that that is an issue that the government of the Philippines has been working. However both the Foreign Secretary and Defense Secretary mentioned about the importance of cooperation between the Philippines and the United States in the field of national security. My capacity as a minister in charge of Okinawan affairs, the main objective of my job is to promote the development of Okinawa. The basic policy of Abe administration is that the American presence is very important to Japan in terms of deterrence that it provides. At the same time, we need understanding of local Okinawan people and we will make our best efforts to lessen the burdens that Okinawan people have.

Alexis Romero, Phil Star:  You mentioned about visiting bases in the Philippines. Does Japan plan to send assets to the Philippines, eventually? If yes, what are these assets?
A: I would like to refrain from making a detailed comments from the question because I believe that that is the capacity that the Minister Onodera, defense minister has. However I believe that the recent visit by Defense Minister Onodera sent a very positive (part?)…on the future between Japan and the Philippines and I believe that further cooperation, we will promote it along with this part.

Dana Batnag, Jiji Press:  Did you discuss the US troops in Okinawa with Secretary Gazmin and Del Rosario? Do you think the increased number of US troops in the Philippines will help promote regional stability?

A: We did not have a detailed discussion, directly, on the presence of American bases in Okinawa. However I explained to them that the purpose of my visit to Subic and Clark was to learn the lessons from these zones about the utilization of former American bases. I told that we can draw a good lessons from these lessons which can be applied to Okinawa in the future as well.
Whether the increased American presence will contribute to the strengthening security environment for the Philippines is primarily an issue to be answered by the government of the Philippines so i would like to refrain from making comments on this.

Q: Can i clarify, I was asking about the US soldiers in Okinawa, not the bases. And the security environment in the region, not in the Philippines.
A: First of all we didn’t discuss on the American soldiers presence on Okinawa in my meeting with Foreign Secretary and  Defense Secretary. Secondly in my capacity as a minister in charge of territorial affairs I would like to refrain from making comments on your question because it has many components which are closely related to national security.
When i visited Subic and Clark yesterday, I had a meeting with president and leaders of Japanese private companies there. Those leaders agreed upon that Philippines’ people are very educated, very diligent, and very easy to work with and I was very glad to hear their stories. That strengthened my understanding that Japan and the Philippines has a very large potential to deepen the cooperation iin the future.

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