MANILA - Japan's Emperor and Empress will visit the Philippines early next year, in yet another sign of even warmer ties between two former World War II enemies now dealing with an increasingly assertive China.
In a brief statement on Tuesday (Oct 13), Philippine President Benigno Aquino's spokesman Herminio Coloma said the state visit by Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko "returns the warm welcome their majesties extended to the President when he visited Tokyo earlier this year".
Mr Aquino met the imperial couple during his four-day state visit to Japan in June this year.
Emperor Akihito said in a speech welcoming Mr Aquino to a palace banquet that Japan felt "remorse" for its actions during World War II.
"During World War II…, fierce battles between Japan and the United States took place on Philippine soil, resulting in the loss of many Filipino lives. This is something we Japanese must long remember with a profound sense of remorse," he said.
The Philippines and Japan are carving a deeper alliance, as they share concerns over China's push into disputed waters in the East and South China Seas.
China claims nearly all 35 million sq km of the South China Sea.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims.
China has reclaimed more than 1,170ha of land in the South China Sea since it began land reclamation efforts in December 2013, 17 times more than the other claimants combined over the past 40 years.
China disclosed late on Friday (Oct 9) that it had begun operating two lighthouses on the Cuarteron and Johnson South reefs in the Spratly islands.
Although it has no territorial claims in the South China Sea, Japan is worried that China may gain control of international waterways, through which US$5 trillion (S$7 trillion) in shipborne trade passes every year.
Tokyo is also locked in its own dispute with Beijing over islands in the East China Sea that it calls the Senkaku Islands, with Japanese and Chinese patrol ships and fighter jets routinely shadowing each other near the uninhabited islands. China refers to the isles as the Diaoyu Islands.
The Philippines is expecting to see more Japanese warships patrol the South China Sea with Japan's recent landmark defence policy shift.
Japan has agreed agreed to send 10 new patrol boats for the Philippine Coast Guard, but the Philippines has been asking for more advanced surveillance equipment, including anti-submarine reconnaissance planes and radar kits.