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Politics & Security

Japan and Philippines Pledge Stronger Security Cooperation with Key Agreements

The agreements included aid to the Philippines, facilitating military training exchanges, and enhancing trilateral security cooperation with the United States.

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Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and President Ferdinand Marcos shake hands after the joint press conference on February 9 at the prime minister's official residence. (© Sankei by Yasuhiro Yajima)

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Prime Minister Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines held talks on Thursday at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo. It was the first visit to Japan by Marcos since he took office in June 2022. 

With China's aggressive actions in the East China Sea and South China Sea obviously in mind, the two men agreed to cooperate to achieve the shared ideal of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.

Among other things, they agreed to strengthen joint training by Japan's Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) and the Philippine military. They also pledged to carry out trilateral security cooperation with the United States

At the start of the meeting, Kishida declared that "Japan attaches its importance on cooperation with the Philippines as a neighboring maritime nation, in order to maintain and strengthen the international order based on the rule of law."

In response, Marcos replied, "We share common principles of democracy, respect for human rights, and the rule of law."

Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress welcome Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr and First Lady Liza Araneta Marcos on February 9 to the Imperial Palace. (© Imperial Household Agency)

Seven Cooperation Agreements

During the talks, Kishida announced that Japan will provide a total of ¥600 billion JPY (about $4.5 billion USD) to the Philippines, mainly for infrastructure projects, during FY 2022 and FY 2023.

They likely also mentioned Japan's request for the extradition of four suspected Japanese ringleaders of the "Luffy" crime group. They are believed to have orchestrated a widespread wave of robberies in Japan.

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The leaders signed seven agreements. These included a deal to facilitate humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations by the JSDF in the Philippines. As things now stand, the two sides must agree on details such as the size of the JSDF contingent to be sent prior to each mission. But the new agreement eliminates that requirement. The two sides now aim to conclude a reciprocal access agreement (RAA). This will simplify the procedures for mutual visits between the SDF and the Philippine military.

Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress welcome Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr and First Lady Liza Araneta Marcos on February 9 to the Imperial Palace. (© Imperial Household Agency)

Preparing for a Taiwan Contingency

Japan's decision to join the US in deepening security cooperation with the Philippines aims to enhance deterrence against China. The country has been intensifying efforts to achieve effective dominance in the South China Sea. By enlisting the Philippines as a strategic partner within a constellation of allies and like-minded countries centered around the US and Japan, the hope is to secure the Philippines as a locus from which to respond in the event of a Taiwan contingency.

The Philippines occupies a key position on maritime transportation routes. It is also part of the first island chain that includes Kyushu, Taiwan, and islands in the South China Sea. The island nation is located approximately 300 kilometers from Taiwan, across the Luzon Strait (including the Bashi Channel). Its position has tremendous strategic importance.

Philippines
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and President Ferdinand Marcos attend the Japan-Philippines summit meeting on February 9 at the prime minister's official residence. (© Sankei by Yasuhiro Yajima)

The US and the Philippines have long been allies. However, during the presidency of Marcos's predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, bilateral relations stagnated. The former president took a dim view of security cooperation. 

Relations with the US have warmed considerably since Marcos took office last June. Both the American and Japanese governments have moved quickly to strengthen their ties with the Philippines.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited the Philippines on February 2. An agreement was reached at that time to increase the number of military facilities in that country available for use by the US military from five to nine. In the event of a Taiwan contingency, the Philippines could play a crucial role along with US forces in Japan.

Beijing's Shadow 

Japan also made clear the great importance it places on the Philippines during the February 9 summit. For example, it confirmed support for upgrading the capabilities of the Philippine Coast Guard. It also agreed to the promotion of transfers of defense equipment and technology. The Philippines aims to improve its maritime security capabilities to counter China, which has been building artificial islands for military use in the Spratly Islands (which China calls the Nansha Islands) in the South China Sea.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and President Ferdinand Marcos attend the Japan-Philippines summit meeting on February 9 at the prime minister's official residence. (© Sankei by Yasuhiro Yajima)

Nevertheless, China is also working to draw the Marcos Administration closer. Chinese leader Xi Jinping met with Marcos in Beijing in January. The two agreed to create a framework for direct dialogue among diplomats to reach a peaceful resolution to the South China Sea issue. They also signed agreements providing for cooperation in areas such as agriculture, infrastructure development, and the digital sector.

There has been some criticism within the Japanese government that focusing on assistance to the Philippines might disrupt alignment within ASEAN

However, a Foreign Ministry source points out, "There is no unity within ASEAN concerning certain situations. If possible, we should try to win the Philippines completely over to our side." 

With China constantly increasing its military pressure, he stresses the need to strengthen cooperation with the Philippines.

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Author: Yoshikazu Hiroike

(Read the article in Japanese.)

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