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TOKYO: Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said Friday he wants to start talks to allow Japanese troops into his Southeast Asian country, as both nations try to build up their defenses at a time of tense territorial disputes with China.

A visiting forces agreement would allow for refueling and other logistical and legal needs for periodic visits by Japanese troops, Aquino told a news conference at the end of his four-day visit to Tokyo. The Philippines has similar deals with the US and Australia.

The Philippines and Japan on Thursday signed a strategic partnership agreement and said they would start talks on selling Japanese military hardware and technology, while bolstering exercises and operations between their militaries. Japan will be delivering 10 patrol ships for the Philippine coast guard and also promised to upgrade its surveillance and defense capability.

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.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to expand Japan’s military role abroad, and already has partnered with a number of countries, including Australia, to complement Tokyo’s cornerstone alliance with the US.

Abe’s Cabinet last year adopted a new interpretation of Japan’s war-renouncing constitution that would allow Japan to aid foreign allies under attack. So far, Japanese troops have been restricted to Japan and its vicinity, and the changes are currently being discussed in parliament.

Defense Minister Gen Nakatani has said that the new law, if passed, could allow Japanese military to provide escorts and surveillance in the South China Sea, where the Philippines and the US have challenged China’s territorial claims.

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.”

Japan hosts American troops under its bilateral security treaty but has no visiting forces agreement with other nations, except in the case of UN-led peacekeeping operations.

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