Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, seeking to strengthen Moscow's links in Asia, began a 24-hour visit to Manila Wednesday after launching a fresh drive to mend relations with Japan.

He is expected to discuss trade and fishing rights with the Philippines, Washington's closest ally in southeast Asia.Shevardnadze was greeted by Philippine Foreign Minister Raul Manglapus when he flew in from Tokyo, where he announced formation of a Soviet-Japan committee to thrash out differences that have prevented them from signing a peace treaty for 43 years.

Shevardnadze is the highest-ranking Soviet minister to visit the Philippines since Manila established diplomatic relations with Moscow in 1976. "I think that speaks for itself," Shevardnadze told reporters at Manila airport.

He said he was looking forward to meeting Philippine President Corazon Aquino on Thursday.

"We have a great deal to say to each other on the prospects of our bilateral relations, on the situation in the Asia-Pacific region and on the current state of international affairs," Shevardnadze said.

He said a new trend had emerged in Soviet-Philippine relations and he hoped to build on this positive change.

Manglapus said the Philippines was keen to develop economic and trade links with the Soviet Union, which is interested in fishing rights and industrial, power and mining joint ventures, as well as landing rights for the Soviet airline Aeroflot.

Diplomats said Shevardnadze's trip also reflected the desire by Manila to broaden relations with the Soviet bloc as a counterweight to its close ties with the United States in advance of talks next year on extending the lease on U.S. military bases. The lease expires in September 1991.

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has offered to end Soviet use of military facilities as Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam if the United States pulls out of its bases at Clark and Subic Bay in the Philippines. Washington has rejected the proposal.

The air and naval bases are important for U.S. defense of the Indian and Pacific oceans and are the largest outside American soil.

Shevardnadze's visit reflects Soviet moves to expand and strengthen links in Asia, where Moscow is mending fences with China, promoting a Cambodian settlement and attempting to improve ties with Japan, Asian diplomats said.

"It will be an occasion to strengthen our friendly relations with the Soviet Union in keeping with our policy of maintaining friendly relations with all countries regardless of ideology," Manglapus said earlier this month.

The U.S.-trained and equipped Philippine armed forces have traditionally opposed expansion of trade relations with the Soviet Union because of fears it could endanger national security.

Manila has been facing a communist insurgency for almost 20 years.

A special committee which included foreign ministry, trade and defence officials agreed on Monday that trade and economic ties could be expanded in specific areas.

Shevardnadze will go on to North Korea Thursday. He said in Tokyo the development of trade links between the Soviet Union and Seoul would not lead to full diplomatic relations with South Korea.