Security deal seals PH-Japan alliance
The Philippines and Japan on Thursday signed a strategic security agreement that would lead to the sale by Tokyo of military hardware and transfer of technology to Manila to counter China’s increasing aggressiveness in the disputed South China Sea.
The agreement sealed an emerging coalition between the two Asia-Pacific nations locked in maritime disputes with China in the biggest realignment of the balance of power in the region since the end of World War II.
It put the two former belligerents in the Pacific war into partnership with the United States, the strongest military power in the region whose dominance now faces a serious challenge from China.
The agreement highlighted the four-day visit of President Aquino to Japan, which agreed to rearm the Philippines to enable it to put up a credible defense against China’s increasing encroachment on Philippine territory in the South China Sea.
Weapons sales to the Philippines may include antisubmarine reconnaissance aircraft and radar technology, according to Japanese media reports.
Besides the Tokyo agreement, Japan and the Philippines also firmed up a deal for Japan’s sale to the Philippine Coast Guard of 10 patrol vessels to enable it to step up its watch over Philippine-claimed islands in the South China Sea.
A contentious issue comes with the strategic agreement. In reporting on the results of his trip on Friday, President Aquino said he wanted to start talks to allow Japanese troops into the Philippines.
A Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with Japan, he said, would allow for refueling and other legal logistical needs of Japanese security forces.
The Philippines has VFAs with longtime allies the United States and Australia.
The VFA has been a source of irritations between host country and visiting troops—an issue that has fueled nationalist and left-wing resentment.
The government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has adopted a new interpretation of Japan’s war-renouncing constitution that would allow Japan to aid foreign allies under attack.
So far, Japanese troops have been restricted to Japan and its vicinities, and the changes are currently being discussed in parliament.
New military role
According to The Associated Press, Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani has said that the new law, if passed, would allow the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to provide escorts and surveillance in the South China Sea, where the Philippines and the United States have challenged China’s territorial claims.
Against the prevailing restrictions, President Aquino and Prime Minister Abe have discussed the possibility of starting talks toward forging a VFA, saying strategic partners need such an arrangement, as “there comes a time that you would to need to coordinate.”
Japan hosts American troops under its bilateral security treaty, but has no VFA with other countries. It has joined United Nations-led peacekeeping operations, though.
Under Abe’s push to expand Japan’s military role abroad, Tokyo has signed defense cooperation agreements with a number of countries to complement its cornerstone alliance with Washington.
Last year, Japan eased restrictions on arms export, and is now seen as a front-runner to win a contract to supply next-generation submarines to Australia, according to a Reuters report.
Impact on Japan’s security
Defense Minister Nakatani has repeatedly said that the tensions in the South China Sea, through which much of Japan’s trade passes, are having a bigger impact on Japan’s security, and Tokyo needs to consider how to respond.
Bills being debated in parliament would ease the pacifist constitution’s constraints on the Japanese military’s overseas activities, raising the risk of Tokyo getting dragged into action in the South China Sea in support of US forces.
Japan itself is embroiled in a territorial dispute with China over a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, with patrol ships and fighter jets routinely shadowing each other in the area.
Tokyo and Manila held their first joint naval exercises in the South China Sea this month.
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