SOUTH CHINA SEA ROW

Japan prepares to deliver two coastguard ships to Philippines to patrol South China Sea

Japan last week reported a flurry of incursions by Chinese vessels into waters Tokyo sees as its own near the disputed East China Sea islands it controls

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 August, 2016, 10:46pm
UPDATED : Friday, 12 August, 2016, 10:53pm

Japan and the Philippines have begun talks for the transfer of two large coastguard ships to Manila, to help patrol the disputed South China Sea, a Japanese foreign ministry ­official said yesterday, as part of a deal on ­defence equipment.

The two brand new 90-metre multi-role response vessels will be in addition to 10 ­44-metre mid-sized coastguard ships, worth 8.8 billion pesos (HK$1.46 billion), that Japan is set to start delivering next week.

“Both governments are looking into the possibility of getting two more vessels, this time the bigger ones,” Masato Ohtaka, deputy spokesman of Japan’s foreign min­istry, told journalists in Manila. “We’re in the middle of dialogue between the two sides, they are still discussing details and we need a little more time.”

We talked about how Japan can help the Philippines in capacity building, particularly with regards to maritime security
Masato Ohtaka, Japan’s foreign min­istry

The ship delivery figured in an 80-minute meeting between Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on Thursday in southern Davao City.

“We talked about how Japan can help the Philippines in capacity building, particularly with regards to maritime security,” Ohtaka confirmed.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, through which about US$5 trillion worth of trade passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims on the sea, which is believed to have rich deposits of oil and gas.

Japan has no claim in the South China Sea but it is in dispute with China over small islands in the East China Sea. China says it has “indisputable sovereignty” over the area it claims and has refused to recognise the court ruling handed down last month in a case brought by the Philippines. Japan urged China to adhere to the ruling, saying it was binding, prompting a warning from China not to interfere.

“We are very concerned,” Ohtaka said, adding that developments in the East China Sea could parallel those in the South China Sea, where Beijing has stepped up the constant presence of its coastguard ships.

Japan last week reported a flurry of incursions by Chinese vessels into waters Tokyo sees as its own near the disputed East China Sea islands it controls. China is reported to have put up radar and surveillance facilities in the area.

Multimedia: conflicting claims in the South China Sea explained

Japan is also pouring a massive US$2.4 billion into a new railway aimed at easing Manila’s notorious gridlock. The 38km elevated commuter line would connect Manila to nearby Bulacan province to decongest the capital and help spur economic activity.

“This is one of the biggest projects Japan has ever embarked upon using the yen loan,” Ohtaka said. “Railways are one of our fortes ... We sympathise with the Filipinos that this is a project that needs to be done very, very ­quickly.”

Ohtaka said Japan was also open to building a railway in the southern region of Mindanao, a project Duterte had previously said China offered to fund.

The railway was among the topics Kishida discussed with Duterte on Thursday.

Duterte has said reducing traffic congestion and fixing the deteriorating transport system are priorities for his administration. Duterte has even declined invitations for ­engagements in Manila, saying he wants to avoid worsening the congestion.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse