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With eye on China, Philippine president endorses Japan's push for an expanded military role

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, left, talks with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during their meeting at Abe's office in Tokyo Tuesday, June 24, 2014. (AP photo/Yuya Shino, Pool)

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Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, left, talks with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during their meeting at Abe's office in Tokyo Tuesday, June 24, 2014. (AP photo/Yuya Shino, Pool)

TOKYO - The leader of the Philippines on Tuesday endorsed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ongoing push to expand Japan's military role.

President Benigno Aquino III, after meeting with Abe, expressed his support for Abe's proposal to reinterpret Japan's pacifist constitution to allow its military to defend not only Japan but also allies that come under attack.

"We believe that nations of goodwill can only benefit if the Japanese government is empowered to assist others and is allowed the wherewithal to come to the aid of those in need, especially in the area of collective self-defence," he told reporters at a joint news conference.

Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party is in the midst of tough negotiations with its coalition partner, the New Komeito, which has so far balked at Abe's proposal to allow what is known as collective self-defence. Under the current interpretation of the constitution, the Japanese military can use force only to defend Japan.

Aquino's support comes as Japan and the Philippines deepen security ties in the face of China's military expansion and territorial disputes both they and other Asian nations have with China in the South and East China seas.

Neither Aquino nor Abe mentioned China by name, but both referred to the changing security environment. China's rise is a potential challenge to American dominance in the Pacific, and control of vital shipping routes as well as potential undersea oil and natural gas.

China has criticized Japan's push for collective self-defence, warning against the return of the Japanese militarism that wreaked havoc across much of Asia before and during World War II.

Aquino acknowledged the devastation the Philippines suffered at Japanese hands, but said his country's relations with Japan have been marked by trust and unfailing support in the years since.

"We do not view with alarm any proposal to revisit the Japanese constitution if the Japanese people so decide," he said, "especially if this enhances Japan's ability to address its international obligations and brings us closer to the attainment of our shared goals."

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