By Manuel Mogato
MANILA Dec 10 A stronger Japan would act as a
counterbalance to the military rise of China, something that is
worrying smaller Asian nations as tensions grow over conflicting
territorial claims in the region, the Philippines said on
Rivals claims to the South China Sea, and its likely oil and
gas wealth, have made it Asia's biggest potential flashpoint.
China claims the largest area, putting it at loggerheads in
particular in recent months with Vietnam and the Philippines.
Other claimants are Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia.
"(We are looking for Japan) to support the peaceful process
of resolving the issues here and to be one of the partners as
far as security alliances and partnership is concerned," Foreign
Ministry spokesman Raul Hernandez said in a statement.
He said no one country has the capacity to address the
security requirements of the region, and it is in the
Philippines' interest to have stronger alliances.
The comments echo those of Foreign Minister Albert del
Rosario in an interview with the Financial Times newspaper
published on Monday, when he said that Japan "could be a
significant balancing factor."
The dispute is testing the unity of the 10-nation
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and also dragged
the United States into the debate just as it is pushing to raise
an already strong military profile in the region.
On Tuesday, the Philippines will hold strategic talks with
the United States, its closest security ally, on ways to
strengthen their alliance, including increasing rotational
presence of U.S. forces in its former colony.
Carlos Sorreta, foreign ministry assistant secretary for
American affairs, said the increased U.S. presence in Asia and
Pacific region "sends the right signal that states must behave
in a reasonable and lawful way".
Last week, Vietnam claimed that Chinese fishing boats
sabotaged one of its oil and gas research vessels, while the
Philippines and China were involved in a two-month-long standoff
earlier this year at Scarborough Shoal near the Philippine
Adding to tension, authorities in China's Hainan island have
passed laws allowing police to search vessels deemed to be
operating illegally in what it considers its Hainan's waters,
drawing protests from its neighbours and concern from the United
Asked about the Philippine comments on Japan as a balancing
force, China's foreign ministry said the idea of "containment"
was out of date.
"Now it's no longer the era of the Cold War. The issue of
one country containing another one does not exist," spokesman
Hong Lei told a regular briefing.
Another Philippine foreign ministry official said Manila
does not share the concerns of some others in the region of
Japan's military past because it has shown in the years since
World War Two that it has become a democratic and responsible
member of the international community.
Japan will hold a general election on Dec. 16 that is
expected to be won by the opposition Liberal Democratic Party
(LDP). LDP leader Shinzo Abe has promised to loosen limits on
the military in Japan's pacifist constitution and stand up to
China over disputed isles in the East China Sea.