This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
The Philippines and Japan agreed to strengthen their defense alliance and to give troops from Tokyo easier access to its Southeast Asian neighbor, their leaders said Thursday, as both nations face security challenges involving China.
On Thursday, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. met with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, while officials from the Philippines’ defense department and Japan’s disaster management also held talks in the Japanese capital.
“The leaders resolved to increase the defense capabilities of their own countries and further strengthen overall security cooperation by strategic reciprocal port calls and aircraft visits, transfer of more defense equipment and technology,” among other things, Marcos and Kishida said in a joint statement.
The two sides agreed to increase bilateral communications between their defense and military officials “in light of the very challenging regional security environment.”
Tokyo and Manila announced the broadened defense ties a week after U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and the Marcos administration announced that both sides had struck a deal to enable American forces to access more military bases in the Philippines, as tensions brew between China and Taiwan. The deal under the expanded Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement allows Washington to rotate troops in and out and build facilities.
While the Philippines has had conflicts with China in the South China Sea, Japan has had its own territorial disputes with the super power over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
Marcos and Kishida also agreed to “simplify the procedures for visits to the Philippines of the JSDF,” an acronym for the Japan Self-Defense Forces.
Japan has been sending troops to the Philippines to observe annual joint U.S.-Philippine war games, most recently in October 2022.
South Korea, another country seeking to blunt China’s military influence in the region, actively participated in those training exercises in central Luzon, the main Philippine Island that fronts the South China Sea.
In addition, Marcos and Kishida agreed to strengthen efforts to complete the transfer of an air surveillance radar system.
In July 2022, Philippine Armed Forces chief Gen. Andres Centino thanked Japan for its role in a project to acquire the radar system under the military’s modernization program. The 5.5 billion pesos (U.S. $98 million) contract, signed in August 2020, was awarded to the Japanese firm Mitsubishi Electric Corp.
Meanwhile, Philippine Senior Undersecretary Carlito Galvez Jr., who leads the defense department, presented “terms of reference” for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations (HADR) to Tani Kouichi, Japan’s minister for disaster management.
The terms would allow “both armed forces to learn and exchange best practices on search, retrieval and rescue operations, and disaster response on the aftermath of natural and manmade disasters.”
Galvez is expected to meet with Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada on Friday.
Marcos, who also met with top Japanese semiconductor executives on Thursday, touted what he called robust infrastructure development in the Philippines.
“But we have in fact, actually accelerated it further and have made it a priority because we understand the importance of the infrastructure development, not only in terms of roads, imports, but even in the soft infrastructure that we need to have in place,” Marcos told the executives, according to transcripts released in Manila.
He also sought to assure the Japanese investors that his government would address logistics concerns, which has been described as one of the biggest challenges in the country.
“The logistics problems are also one of the areas that we will try to answer, specifically by having the infrastructure that can support the different activities – economic activities – that you are proposing for the future,” Marcos said.
The president also met with Japanese MPs and thanked them for assisting in efforts to bring peace to the southern Philippines.
Japan has assisted in development efforts in areas previously identified as rebel strongholds and helped broker a peace pact between the government and the separatist group Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, in 2014.
The agreement led to former MILF guerrillas assuming leadership of an autonomous Muslim region, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in 2019.
“It has been a critical part of our peace process. It is a process that we have been undertaking for many, many years and I think, [I] finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, the participation of the Japanese support in that peace process has been invaluable,” Marcos said.