Japanese emperor to visit Manila next year

Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will visit the Philippines early next year, in another sign of warmer ties between two former World War II enemies now dealing with an increasingly assertive China.

In a brief statement yesterday, President Benigno Aquino's spokesman Herminio Coloma said the state visit "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.

The Philippines and Japan have been carving out a deep alliance as they wrestle with China's push into waters near their borders.

China claims nearly all of the 3.5 million sq km of the South China Sea. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims.

Japan is locked in a dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Japan is also worried that China, through a network of artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea, may gain control of international waterways, through which US$5 trillion (S$7 trillion) in ship-borne trade passes every year.

China has reclaimed more than 1,170ha of land in the South China Sea since it began reclamation efforts in December 2013.

Last week, it said it has begun operating two lighthouses on Cuarteron and Johnson South reefs in the Spratly Islands in the southern half of the South China Sea.

Mr Aquino announced during his Japan visit that Manila and Tokyo had begun discussing a new treaty that will allow Japan to use military bases in the Philippines to extend its range of operation into the South China Sea.

The treaty, called a "visiting forces agreement", will allow Japanese military aircraft and warships to refuel and pick up supplies in the Philippines. It will also clear the way for joint military exercises.

With its military dwarfed by China's superiority, the Philippines is increasingly turning to Japan for help. Japan has so far agreed to send 10 new patrol boats for the Philippine Coast Guard.

In events marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the Philippines called Japan "a trusted friend", even as its neighbours criticised Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for refusing to issue a formal apology for Japan's imperial expansionism and war legacy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2015, with the headline 'Japanese emperor to visit Manila next year'. Print Edition | Subscribe