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Japan, Philippines sign defence pact to train in each other’s territory

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, right, greets Philippines’ President Ferdinand Marcos Junior (Franck Robichon/AP)
Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, right, greets Philippines’ President Ferdinand Marcos Junior (Franck Robichon/AP)

Japan and the Philippines have signed a key defence pact which the deployment of Japanese forces for joint military exercises.

The two Asian nations are now building an alliance as they both face an increasingly assertive China.

Monday’s Reciprocal Access Agreement, which similarly allows Filipino forces to enter Japan for joint combat training, was signed by Philippines defence secretary Gilberto Teodoro and Japanese foreign minister Yoko Kamikawa in a Manila ceremony witnessed by President Ferdinand Marcos Junior.

Philippine and Japanese officials said it would take effect after ratification by the countries’ legislatures.

Philippines Marcos Disputed Sea
Chinese Coast Guard hold knives and machetes as they approach Philippine troops on a resupply mission in the Second Thomas Shoal at the disputed South China Sea in June 17, 2024 (Armed Forces of the Philippines/AP)

The Philippine government said in a statement that Mr Kamikawa and Japanese Defence Minister Minoru Kihara are in Manila to hold talks with their counterparts on ways to further deepen relations.

Japan’s defence pact with the Philippines is its first in Asia. It signed similar accords with Australia in 2022 and with Britain last year.

Many of Japan’s Asian neighbours, including the Philippines, were under Japanese aggression until its defeat in the Second World War. Japan’s efforts to bolster its military role and spending could be a sensitive issue but the two countries have steadily deepened defence and security ties.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s moves dovetail with President Marcos’s effort to forge security alliances to bolster the Philippine military’s limited ability to defend Manila’s territorial interests in the South China Sea.

The busy sea passage is a key global trade route that has been claimed virtually in its entirety by China but is also contested in part by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.

Japan has had a long-standing territorial dispute with China over islands in the East China Sea, while Chinese and Philippine coast guard and navy ships have been involved in a series of tense confrontations in the South China Sea since last year.

In the worst confrontation so far, Chinese coast guard personnel armed with knives, spears and an axe aboard motorboats repeatedly rammed and destroyed two Philippine navy supply vessels on June 17 in a chaotic face-off in the disputed Second Thomas Shoal that injured several Filipino sailors. Chinese coast guard personnel seized seven navy rifles.

The Philippines strongly protested against the Chinese coast guard’s actions and demanded one million dollars (£780,345) for the damage and the return of the rifles. China accused the Philippines of instigating the violence, saying the Filipino sailors strayed into what it called Chinese territorial waters despite warnings.