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EDITORIAL | Japan Sees Philippines' Crucial Role in Maintaining Free Seas

A quasi-alliance with the Philippines will be important for Japan's security and economy, and will complement the two countries' shared concerns about China.



Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on November 4 became the first Japanese prime minister to address the Philippine Congress (©Reuters)

The steps Japan and the Philippines have taken toward a quasi-alliance-level relationship are welcome.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has just visited the Philippines, where he met with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. The two leaders agreed to enter into negotiations for a reciprocal access agreement (RAA). That will facilitate joint exercises and exchanges between the Self-Defense Forces and the Philippine military. Japan also agreed to provide the Philippines with coastal radar for surveillance purposes. 

The only countries with which Japan has RAAs are the United Kingdom and Australia, which it considers quasi-allies. The provision of coastal surveillance radar is also the first application of Japan's Official Security Assistance (OSA) to support the military forces of like-minded nations.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida shakes hands with Philippine President Marcos before the meeting, November 3, Manila. (©Kyodo)

Significance of the Philippines

The Philippines boasts the second-highest population among members of ASEAN and a growing economy. As the Philippines is an important country to Japan's security, its relationship with Manila deserves upgrading to a "quasi alliance" level. 

Moreover, Japan and the Philippines face increasingly assertive military activities by China in the South and East China Seas. The Philippines is embroiled in a territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea. Those same waters are extremely important as sea lanes for Japan's security and commerce.

Taiwan lies just between our two countries. Like it or not, both Japan and the Philippines would inevitably become involved in the event of a Taiwan crisis.

Philippine Navy Flag Officer-in-Command Vice Admiral Toribio Adaci Jr. speaks during the annual bilateral exercise between the Philippine and US Navy, at the Philippine Navy Headquarters, in Manila, Philippines, October 2, 2023. (©REUTERS/Jay Ereno)

Shared Concerns and Values

In their talks, Kishida and Marcos agreed they shared serious concerns about the situations in the East and South China Seas. Attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by force would not be tolerated, they said. Furthermore, President Marcos announced at their joint press conference that he shared the security concerns with Japan. 

If China's military intimidation led the Philippines to drop out of the ranks of nations pursuing a "Free and Open Indo-Pacific," Japan's security and economic environment would inevitably worsen. The existence of Taiwan, a country that upholds freedom and democracy, would also be imperiled.

Japanese PM Fumio Kishida speaks to the Philippine Congress on November 4 in Manila. (©Kyodo)

Pledging Economic and Security Cooperation

In his address to the Joint Session of the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives, Kishida pledged bilateral economic cooperation. (Watch his speech with English interpretation.) At the same time, he expressed Japan's "determination to defend 'freedom' and 'the rule of law.'" He also called for both countries to work together to make that happen, saying, "Let us protect the maritime order, which is governed by laws and rules, not by force."

Both Japan and the Philippines are allies of the United States. Our three countries must proactively cooperate to enhance deterrence against China. In October, the navies of the US and the Philippines took part in joint exercises in which Maritime SDF units also participated. 

Furthermore, in June, the Japan Coast Guard and other coast guard-related agencies from the three nations conducted joint drills for the first time. During their meeting, Kishida and Marcos reaffirmed their intent to promote trilateral cooperation, including the US. 

We would like to see an accelerated pace of cooperation with the Philippines in light of the important role it plays in maintaining free seas.



(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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