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Philippines seeks patrol ships, communications equipment from Japan amid disputes with China

The Philippines sought coast guard patrol ships and communications equipment from Japan to better secure the country's territory in meetings on Thursday of their top diplomats, who expressed alarm over their countries' territorial conflicts with China.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said Japan would consider giving 10 patrol vessels and a communications system to Manila's coast guard, adding his talks with his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, also tackled ways to bolster trade, investments, tourism and maritime security cooperation.

Japan has wrangled with China over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. Japan controls the territory, which are also claimed by China and Taiwan.

Tensions over the tiny islands intensified after Tokyo bought them from their Japanese private owners in September, prompting Chinese protesters to hold demonstrations and boycott Japanese products.

Aside from long-unresolved disputes over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, China and the Philippines figured in a tense standoff last year over the Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground, which sparked a heated exchange of words and strained relations.

Many have expressed fears that Asia's territorial disputes could spark the region's next major armed conflict.

Del Rosario said he and Kishida expressed "mutual concern" over the disputes and China's aggressive steps to assert its territorial claims. Both sides, he said, discussed the possibility of learning from strategies their governments have each adopted to deal with the conflicts peacefully based on international law.

"I think we all understand that the assertions being made by China in terms of their nine-dash line claim, for example ... pose threats to the stability of the region," del Rosario said, referring to an official Chinese map with broken lines that depict Beijing's claim of virtually the entire South China Sea.

"We also need to be able to address the possibility that the freedom of navigation would be adversely impacted," del Rosario told a news conference after meeting with Kishida.

The Philippine request for coast guard "multi-role response vessels" and a communications system would be endorsed for the Japanese government's approval by Tokyo's foreign ministry. Once approved, the first patrol vessels could be delivered as early as this year, del Rosario said.

The Philippines has one of Asia's weakest militaries. It has turned to the United States, a defense treaty-ally, and other countries to modernize its poorly-equipped navy, air force and coast guard and better secure its extensive coastlines and territorial waters, including in potentially oil- and gas rich areas in and near the South China Sea.

Although it has vowed to pursue its territorial claims peacefully, the Philippine government has said it needed to develop a "minimum defense" capability to discourage poaching and foreign vessel intrusions.