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Japan’s Abe sends top adviser to meet with Duterte as Tokyo pushes for multilateral talks

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has sent his top adviser to Davao City to extend his congratulations to President-elect Rodrigo Duterte as Tokyo urged the incoming administration to push for multilateral talks in resolving the long-running disputes in the South China Sea.

During the meeting on Thursday, Katsuyuki Kawai, special advisor to Abe, conveyed Japan’s “constant support” to Manila’s move to bring its disputes with China before an international tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.

The Philippines and Japan are both embroiled in separate territorial disputes with China.

The Philippines is locked in a long-running sea row with China over parts of its exclusive economic zone being claimed by Beijing off the West Philippine Sea, while Japan and China are contesting ownership over islands called Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu in Chinese.

“I personally talked with your president-elect regarding the South China Sea issue. I personally think that a multilateral dialogue will be very important and very beneficial for all the countries which are engaged to that issue,” Kawai said at a press conference at the Japanese Embassy on Friday.

Duterte said he would wait for the final decision of the court on Manila’s case, but at the same time stated that he will pursue bilateral talks with China if current efforts prove futile and explore possible joint exploration in the South China Sea. 

Such positions are in stark contrast to the policy of outgoing President Benigno Aquino III, who sought to settle the disputes through multilateral initiatives, such as third-party arbitration – a move frowned upon by Beijing.

Kawai said Japan respects the rule of law and the pursuit of peaceful resolution of the conflicts through arbitration – a position long held by the Philippines.

Abe’s envoy also briefed Duterte on the G7 leaders’ declaration in Japan where they reaffirmed the importance of resolving dispute by peaceful means, including arbitration.

Kawai said he and Duterte “reached consensus” on three points: Reaction to the ruling of the arbitral tribunal is very important; Freedom of navigation must be maintained; and Japan and Philippines should promote cooperation in security area.

In less than two years, Beijing has reclaimed nearly 3,000 acres of land from the South China Sea, transforming seven formerly submerged reefs into military outposts equipped with radars, surface to air missiles, landing strips, and huge buildings.

China’s massive island-building came immediately after the Philippines filed in January 2013 a case against Beijing before the Permanent Court of Arbitration to try to declare as illegal and excessive its massive claim based on its unilateral nine-dash line map.

The map shows a U-shaped enclosure, first made public by Beijing in 1947, that puts almost the entire resource-rich South China Sea, including parts of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, under its territory.

China has repeatedly declared that it will not honor the tribunal’s decision.

Kawai, meanwhile, said there was no standing invitation from Abe for Duterte to go on a state visit to Japan, but said he believes both leaders “will be able to build good chemistry with each other” if they meet in the future.

“Mr. Duterte is very frank and sincere and also a very decisive new leader as well as our Prime Minister. So if they meet each other in the future, they will be very good friends so I hope that day is coming soon,” Kawai said. — RSJ, GMA News