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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

PHL, Japan start military access pact

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THE Philippines and Japan are on the verge of negotiating for a military access agreement at the height of their common security threat from Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific.

Japan was the Philippines’ most brutal foreign occupier that killed half a million Filipinos and Americans during World War II. Six decades later, Japan and the Philippines are “strategic partners” and will officially become defense treaty allies.

In a joint statement, the Philippines and Japan said that during the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Kishido Fumio, both sides agreed “to commence negotiations” on a bilateral reciprocal access agreement (RAA).

The RAA is similar to the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the US that provides the legal basis for the countries to send soldiers to each other’s territory for drills and other operations.

1st Japanese OSA to PHP: P235M coastal radar system

President Marcos also “welcomed” the assistance of Japan to help the Philippines build its defense capabilities through a new cooperation framework, the Official Security Assistance (OSA).

OSA is Japan’s defense version of its official development assistance (ODA) with “like-minded allies.” This new Japanese security strategy entails providing equipment and supplies as well as infrastructure development assistance to the countries.

For its first OSA to the Philippines, Japan is providing JPY 600 million (around PHP 235.5 million) for a coastal radar system to “improve the Philippine Navy’s maritime domain awareness capabilities.”

“The two leaders welcomed the realization of the transfer of the first air surveillance radar system to the Philippines and reaffirmed that this would further strengthen defense cooperation between the two countries,” the joint statement released by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said.

‘Most resilient, dynamic strategic partnership’

During the bilateral meeting in Manila Friday, Marcos Jr. and Kishida reaffirmed their “strategic partnership that is transformative and forward-looking.”

Marcos Jr. also said that this strategic partnership “would continue to be among the Philippines’ most resilient and dynamic in the region.”

“The two leaders stressed a strong commitment to the free and open international order based on the rule of law and strongly opposed any attempt to jeopardize the foundation of the international order which does not accept any change of the internationally recognized borders by force or coercion,” the joint statement said.

The statement did not mention China but their common security problem became the elephant in the room in their bilateral meeting as both leaders “reaffirmed” their commitment to freedom of navigation and overflight in the East and South China seas.

Japan, like the Philippines, has maritime disputes with China over Senkaku Island ( international name: Pinnacle Islands; China: Diaoyu Islands ) in the East China Sea.

“The two leaders reiterated their adherence to a rules-based approach in resolving competing claims in maritime areas within the relevant provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to ensure peace, stability and prosperity,” the statement reads.

Kishida “highly appreciated” the Philippines “for having consistently complied with the Arbitral Tribunal award” that invalidated the nine-dash claim of China over the South China Sea.

The two leaders also discussed security and maritime cooperation activities such as  bilateral Japan-Philippines and trilateral Japan-Philippines-US  meetings at  various levels, the Foreign and Defense Ministerial Meeting (“2+2”), the Vice-Ministerial Strategic Dialogue, the Political-Military (PM) Dialogue and the Military to Military (MM) Dialogue.

Economic cooperation 

Marcos Jr. thanked Kishida for continued commitment to the development of the Philippines, supporting his ambition for the Philippines to become an Upper Middle Income Country.

Japan is the top ODA donor of the Philippines. Last year, Japanese ODA amounted to JPY 600 billion, a big part of which was dedicated to the peace program for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

Kishida reiterated Japan’s commitment to support infrastructure development as well as improving the capacities of the Philippine Coast Guard. 

During Kishida’s visit three other agreements were signed:

  • exchange of notes related to the construction equipment for road network improvement and disaster quick response operation;
  • memorandum of cooperation on tourism; and
  • memorandum of cooperation on mining sector.

Image credits: Nonie Reyes

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