Manila, Philippines: Philippine President Benigno Aquino III laid out a red-carpet welcome to Japan's emperor on Wednesday in a sign of the blossoming ties of the Asian nations territorially at odds with China while further moving past painful memories of Japan's World War II aggression.
Aquino and Emperor Akihito held talks at Manila's Malacanang presidential palace, where Philippine and Japanese flags were displayed side by side and Filipino troops fired cannons in a traditional salute. Aquino is to host a state banquet later for Akihito, whose visit marks the allies' 60 years of diplomatic relations.
The brief discussion by Aquino and Akihito touched on the emperor's previous visit to the Philippines in 1962, when he was still the crown prince, to upbeat developments like the robust sales of Japanese-made cars that have contributed to Manila's heavy traffic and the entry of Japanese retail store Uniqlo, presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma Jr.
Akihito, who is a revered symbol of Japanese unity but plays no political role in his country, has no plans to discuss contentious security issues such as the territorial disputes or demands for an apology by Filipino women who have accused Japanese forces of forcing them into wartime sex slavery, according to Hatsuhisa Takashima, the emperor's press secretary.
Relations between Japan and the Philippines have improved dramatically in the seven decades since the war, with Japan becoming a major trading partner and aid donor for the Philippines. Akihito's visit is seen as a strong sign of a further deepening of ties as the countries, both close American allies, confront China over long-contested maritime territories.
Japan's Self Defense forces have staged joint search and rescue exercises with the Philippine navy near the disputed South China Sea and are providing the Philippines with coast guard patrol boats.
Still, six elderly Filipino women led a protest outside the presidential palace on Wednesday and asked the Japanese government to formally apologize and compensate wartime sex slaves abused by Japanese forces in the last world war. They carried placards that read: "No to rising Japanese militarism."
Before leaving Tokyo for Manila on Tuesday, Akihito said his nation must remember the tremendous loss of life in the Philippines in World War II.
"Many Filipinos, Americans and Japanese lost their lives in the Philippines during the war," he said. "Especially in the battle in Manila, a tremendously large number of innocent Filipino civilians were victims. Upon making this visit, we need to bear this in mind at all times."
The 1945 battle for Manila between Japan and allied U.S. and Philippine forces leveled the capital city and left more than 100,000 dead, according to Philippine historians.
Akihito is to pay his respects at memorials for both Philippine and Japanese war dead during his visit, which ends on Saturday.