BUSAN, – The Philippines is eyeing a “comprehensive strategic partnership” with its security ally South Korea amid the ongoing dispute over the potentially oil and gas-rich areas in the South China Sea.
President Benigno Aquino III expressed his plan to form an enhanced partnership with Seoul during his bilateral meeting with South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Thursday.
Aquino is in a two-day to Korea to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit. The meeting took place at around 3:45 p.m., two hours after the Philippine leader arrived at the Gimhae Air Base.
“President Aquino conveyed the Philippines’s intention to pursue a comprehensive strategic partnership with the Republic of Korea,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.
“He noted that the two countries are ‘sister democracies’ that ‘face the same threats and challenges of an evolving region,’ while sharing the values of freedom, respect for human rights, and adherence to the rule of law,” he added.
Coloma said Park had affirmed her country’s defense cooperation agreement with the Philippines, one of Seoul’s allies during the Korean War. She also cited the Philippines’s acquisition of equipment from South Korean suppliers including 12 FA-50 jets for the Air Force.
Last March, the Philippines and Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) signed a contract for the supply of lead-in fighter trainer jets worth P18.9-billion, the biggest item in the military’s modernization program.
The project seeks to boost the territorial defense capabilities of the Philippine military, widely regarded as one of the weakest in the region.
The delivery of the jets is expected to be completed by 2017. Aquino is scheduled to inspect the FA-50 jets with KAI officials at the Gimhae Airbase on Friday.
South Korea will also provide the Philippines a Pohang-class patrol corvette warship, a landing craft utility and 16 rubber boats.
Previous media reports claimed that South Korea’s support to the Philippines’s capability upgrade program did not sit well with China, which has been occupying disputed West Philippine Sea areas to assert its territorial claims.
China has reportedly asked South Korea to discontinue the sale of FA-50 jets and to cancel the delivery of the corvette warship to the Philippine Navy.
China claims virtually the entire South China Sea while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims.
The territorial dispute has raised concerns among members of the international community, fearing that the issue could affect regional trade and stability.
The Philippines has filed a complaint against China’s “exaggerated” territorial claims before an international arbitral tribunal and is calling for a rules-based approach in resolving the issue.
Coloma confirmed that Aquino and Park “reviewed the situation” in the Korean Peninsula and in the South China Sea during their bilateral meeting.
“He (Aquino) noted the two countries’ shared stake in maintaining unimpeded commerce and freedom of navigation in the region and sought South Korea’s continued support for the pursuit of a peaceful, rules-based resolution of disputes in the South China Sea,” Coloma said.
“President Aquino reiterated the Philippines’ support for efforts on the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and the early resumption of the Six-Party talks,” he added.
The Six-Party Talks aims to end North Korea’s nuclear program through negotiations that involve the United States, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and North Korea.
Republic of Korea Nav Pohang-class corvette Gyeongju (PCC-758). Scheduled for deactivation and for transfer to the Philippine Navy.