Japanese minister discusses sea disputes with Philippines

The Japanese minister in charge of Okinawa said Thursday he had "frank" discussions with Philippine defense and foreign affairs officials on "territorial issues and ocean policies," including the simmering sea disputes in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.

Ichita Yamamoto, in Manila on a three-day visit to take a look at former U.S. military bases in the Philippines, said he discussed the Senkaku disputes between Japan and China with Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario during his meetings with the two officials.

"In my meetings with (Gazmin and del Rosario) I clearly and precisely explained Japan's position on Senkaku Islands," he told a press conference after his meeting with Gazmin at the Department of National Defense headquarters.

He declined to elaborate on the discussions except to say they had "very frank discussions" on disputes that involve China.

"We share the view that no country should try to change the status quo unilaterally by force," Yamamoto said.

Moreover, he said they "agreed that rule of law is very important in this region and in maritime domain."

"We also agreed that the establishment of rule of law is a very important agenda that requires close cooperation between Japan and the Philippines, and we would like to continue to cooperate with the Philippines in order to send a strong message to international community," he said.

A press statement issued by the Department of National Defense said Yamamoto and Gazmin discussed "the growing partnership of the Philippines and Japan specifically in maritime security."

On Tuesday, he said he visited the former U.S. military bases, the Clark Air Base and nearby Subic Bay Naval Base where he had meetings with base officials, including Japanese investors there.

"I had a chance to get very insightful information on how the former bases were converted into industrial complexes to attract investment," he said.

The bases in Pampanga and Zambales provinces, both north of Manila, have been converted into commercial zones and are seen as successful models of such conversion to civilian use after the Philippine government voted not to renew a base agreement with the United States and the U.S. forces withdrew in the early 1990s.

Yamamoto said his visit to the former bases has given him idea on how to use the land and facilities south of the Kadena Air Base, which the U.S. military will return to Japan.

He said the presence of U.S. military in Okinawa is "very important in terms of deterrence that it provides."

Sovereignty over the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea has been a source of renewed tension between Tokyo and Beijing, which claims the islets as the Diaoyu.

The Philippines also has its own dispute with China over islands in the South China Sea.

Yamamoto is the fourth Japanese official to visit the Philippines this year.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera have also visited the country.