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Politics

With its eye on China, Japan pledges $9 billion in Philippine aid

Funds will help rebuild battle-torn south and improve infrastructure nationwide

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, welcomes Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to Tokyo on Oct. 30. (Photo by Uichiro Kasai)

TOKYO Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe has pledged to deliver nearly $9 billion in aid to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to rebuild battle-damaged areas of Mindanao island and improve infrastructure throughout the country.

Abe and Duterte signed a joint statement on Oct. 30 agreeing to a public- and private-sector contribution worth a total of 1 trillion yen ($8.78 billion) for the rapidly growing Southeast Asian country of over 7,000 islands.

At the signing ceremony following their summit, Abe said, "As he moves forward in his efforts to fight terrorism, and also for stability in Mindanao, we would like to provide our full support to President Duterte's approach." Duterte replied: "The Philippines and Japan are building a golden age of our strategic partnership."

The offer of aid over the next five years had basically been agreed by the two leaders when Abe visited the Philippines in January. The Japanese leader gave further details of the package on Oct. 30, to which his Philippine counterpart agreed.

SHARED CONCERNS Another area of interest to both leaders is security in the South China Sea, over much of which China claims control. Duterte will chair the upcoming meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the East Asia Summit to be held in the Philippines in the first half of November.

The two leaders also agreed that North Korea's provocations must be dealt with. Abe named the nuclear and missile programs, as well as a prompt resolution of North Korea's abduction of Japanese citizens, as issues on which Japan and the Philippines will work together.

Regarding Pyongyang's continuing missile launches and nuclear tests, Duterte said, "We condemn these tests." He also urged North Korea to come back to the negotiating table to peacefully resolve the situation.

The fourth meeting between Abe and Duterte was aimed at deepening the strategic partnership between the two countries, and ended fruitfully for the Philippines.

Mindanao, especially the city of Marawi, has been hard hit by fighting between government forces and Islamic fighters linked to the Islamic State militant group. The area has been under martial law since May, and Duterte recently declared victory over the militants.

Japan's aid is intended to help swiftly rebuild Marawi once martial law is lifted and restore lasting stability in the area.

Japan will provide funds for improving the country's train networks and disaster-mitigation infrastructure, supporting Duterte's drive to spur the economy. Upgrades to the rail network will include the country's first subway system in Manila and a north-south commuter line between Clark and Los Banos on the island of Luzon.

The subway system will cost an estimated 800 billion yen and is aimed at relieving the capital's notorious traffic jams, said to be among the worst in Asia. The Japanese government will help with its construction and operation, and is considering extending yen loans for the project.

Japan also pledged to help the Philippines increase its power generation capacity and expand the use of liquefied natural gas.

The two countries vowed to crack down harder on drug trafficking and to cooperate on coastal surveillance. The coast guards of Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia will conduct joint training exercises in Manila. "We hope that this will be a model for our cooperation," Abe said.

By providing aid, Japan aims to strengthen its ties with the Philippines, which, in addition to being current chair of ASEAN, plays a key security role in the South China Sea, where China has been building up an economic and military presence.

Duterte has been carrying out a balancing act between Japan and China, aiming to secure economic support from both sides to sustain his popularity at home and deliver on his economic promises.

China has pledged $24 billion in aid to the Philippines. The funding competition between Japan and China may continue to escalate, creating further growth potential for the Southeast Asian country.

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