Japan pledges to help Philippines rebuild Marawi

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan said on Monday it will help the Philippines rebuild conflict-torn southern Marawi city as well as other infrastructure in a deepening of ties to counter China’s regional influence.

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made the pledges in a joint statement with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte following talks in Tokyo.

Duterte on Oct 23 announced the end of five months of military operations in Marawi held by Islamic State rebels in a conflict that destroyed much of the city’s center and displaced some 300,000 people.

“The Government of Japan recognizes that rehabilitation and reconstruction of the City of Marawi and is extremely important,” the statement said.

Japan also offered to help with other projects ranging from rail infrastructure to river defenses including a possible 600 billion yen loan to help fund development of a subway in Manila.

The meeting was an opportunity for Abe to discuss security in Asia ahead of key regional meetings beginning with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) gathering in Vietnam in November.

“I confirmed with President Duterte that we are both maritime nations sharing basic values and strategic interests,” Abe said during his joint announcement with Duterte. The two countries, he added, would address common issues including North Korea and “a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Japan is concerned about China’s growing power in the South China Sea and sees cooperation with the Philippines, which lies on the waterway’s eastern side, as key ally in helping prevent Beijing’s influence spreading into the western Pacific.

Duterte, unlike his predecessor, Benigno Aquino, has been less critical of Beijing’s island building in the South China Sea. The Philippine leader will return home on Tuesday after an audience with the Japanese Emperor.

Abe and Duterte will travel to Vietnam for the two-day APEC meeting from Nov 11, which U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend.

Leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and other countries in the region will meet again in the Philippines after the APEC gathering for the East Asia Summit and a gathering of ASEAN that will be chaired by Philippine’s president.

Duterte in his statement in Tokyo did not mention China, instead calling North Korea to halt its ballistic missile and nuclear test and return to talks with the U.S. Japan and other countries.

Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani