Japan and Philippines strengthening defense ties
In April 2016, a Japanese submarine will visit the Philippines for the first time in 15 years. That visit follows a March 2016 announcement that the Philippine Navy is leasing military airplanes from Japan to help it patrol the disputed South China Sea.
Japan and the Philippines, mortal enemies during World War II, have recently drawn closer together, bringing their security ties to new levels. In 2015, for example, the two nations held joint naval and rescue drills. While their navies had trained jointly before, these latest drills featured a new focus on communications strategies to respond to “unplanned encounters at sea,” according to The Wall Street Journal newspaper.
The two nations’ evolving strategic partnership comes as both countries have publicly expressed concern about China’s increasingly aggressive behavior in the South China Sea. In the sea’s disputed Spratly Islands, which are claimed by several different countries, Chinese dredging operations have been turning previously submerged reefs into artificial islands that could house military outposts.
For the growing Japanese-Filipino partnership, the most significant recent development involves the leasing of airplanes.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III announced in March 2016 that his country would soon fly Japanese planes to patrol Philippine-claimed areas of the sea, according to Reuters and Channel NewsAsia.
“We are leasing from Japan five TC-90 training aircraft to assist our Navy in patrolling our territories, particularly in the West Philippine Sea,” he told news reporters, referring to the Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea. Aquino made this announcement at an Air Force base near Manila, according to Reuters.
The Philippine Navy’s current air patrol planes are limited to a relatively short range, Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported. In contrast, Japan’s TC-90 planes offer twice as much range and will be able to fly over most of the Spratlys, the newspaper said.
To pave the way for the airplane-leasing deal, Japan first signed an agreement in February 2016 to supply defense equipment to the Philippines, The Associated Press (AP) reported. That pact established a framework for transferring defense technology.
“This agreement would really substantiate the Philippines and Japan being strategic partners,” Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said at the agreement’s February 2016 signing ceremony, according to the AP. “Let me stress that what underpins this agreement is not only our desire to enhance our respective defense capabilities but also to contribute to regional peace and stability.”
Neither side specifically mentioned China at this ceremony. “It’s not directed against any country,” the AP quoted Gazmin as saying.
However, Chinese officials expressed alarm about the airplane leasing deal and accused Japan of interfering in the South China Sea even though Japan doesn’t border the sea, Agence France-Presse reported.
“If the Philippines’ actions are to challenge China’s sovereignty and security interests, China is resolutely opposed,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a news briefing, Reuters reported.
In a related development, a Japanese submarine will make a rare visit to the Philippines in April 2016, Reuters reported. The sub and two warships will then travel from the Philippines to Vietnam, in a show of support for two countries opposed to China’s recent activity in the South China Sea.