Philippines, Japan sign disaster relief deal seen to forge closer military ties

Japan has also spent years beefing up the Philippine Coast Guard, which serves as the country’s first line of defence amid Beijing’s incursions in the South China Sea.

The BRP Teresa Magbanua, one of the Philippines’ largest vessels patrolling the disputed waters, was donated by Japan.

It was the same vessel that hosted US Vice-President Kamala Harris when she visited the island province of Palawan in November to reaffirm Washington’s “unwavering commitment” to defend the Philippines.

Mr Marcos’ visit to Japan also came just days after he granted the US wider access to Filipino military bases under a 2014 deal that allows Washington to rotate troops in the Philippines for extended stays, bring in military equipment and hold joint training exercises.

Defence and security expert Heigo Sato from Takushoku University in Tokyo told the Associated Press that having access to Philippine military bases expands strategic options for both Japan and the US.

“When you think about the stability in the region and sea lanes, and deterrence to China’s maritime assertiveness, deepening cooperation with the Philippines is crucial for the security of Japan and the United States,” he said.

Talks of forging closer security cooperation with Japan started in 2015 under the late Philippine president Benigno Aquino III. But his successor Rodrigo Duterte instead prioritised warmer relations with China, while also pivoting away from the US, a military ally of both Japan and the Philippines.

Beijing still insists on its expansive claims over the South China Sea, which an international tribunal had struck down in a 2016 ruling that favoured the Philippines.

Since taking office in June 2022, Mr Marcos has already forged a different foreign policy path from his predecessor, Mr Duterte.

Mr Marcos has been striking a diplomatic balancing act between forging stronger security ties with military allies like Japan and US, while also fostering deeper economic relations with China.

In his first eight months in office, Mr Marcos already had two bilateral meetings each with Mr Kishida, US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who hosted the Philippine leader on a three-day state visit in January.

Beyond the security front, Japan also agreed on Thursday to give the Philippines 600 billion yen (S$6 billion) in assistance to support Manila’s bid to become an upper middle-income country by 2024.

This includes loan agreements to fund two railway projects to be constructed across provinces roughly 40km north-west of the capital Manila.


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