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Friday, June 5, 2015, 17:41

Aquino may let Japan use Philippines bases

By Agencies

 Aquino may let Japan use Philippines bases
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, right, shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe prior to their meeting at Akasaka Palace state guesthouse in Tokyo June 4, 2015. (AP Photo / Shizuo Kambayashi, Pool)

TOKYO - Philippine President Benigno Aquino said on Friday his nation was ready to start talks that would allow Japanese military aircraft and naval vessels to use the Philippines to refuel, allowing them to extend their range of operation into the South China Sea.

The agreement would be a Visiting Forces Agreement, which would clear the way for the Japanese military to use Philippines' bases on a rotational basis, Aquino said at a press briefing in Tokyo at the end of a four-day state visit to Japan.

The Philippine president was in Tokyo at the end of a four-day visit.

Japan is considering joint air patrols with the United States in the South China Sea, sources told Reuters in April, in response to China's increasingly assertive push for influence as it builds air strips and other man-made islands in the disputed waters.

A Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), would clear the way for the Japanese military to use Philippines' bases on a rotational basis, similar to the way the US does now. An ability to refuel close to the South China Sea would allow Japan's Self Defense Forces to keep their aircraft on patrol longer and cover a greater distance.

The decision to start talks on a VFA was not included in a joint statement on Thursday after Aquino met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The two leaders, however, discussed the VFA and agreed to open up negotiations, a source with knowledge of the meeting told Reuters. He declined to be identified because he is not authorized to talk to the media.

The Philippines and Japan on Thursday signed a strategic partnership agreement and said they would start talks on selling Japanese military hardware and exercises and operations between their militaries.

However, the spokesman for the prime minister's office, Kenko Sone, said he did not know immediately whether Japan was also starting talks on a visiting forces agreement with the Philippines.

Aquino said the two leaders touched on a possibility of starting talks toward forging a visiting forces agreement, and that the Philippines is ready to discuss further details. He said strategic partners need such an arrangement in case "there comes a time that you would need to be in coordination.''

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