Tokyo, Manila Must Deepen Cooperation to Maintain Maritime Order

As China intensifies its hegemonic activities in the East and South China Seas, it is important for U.S. allies Japan and the Philippines to work together to maintain maritime order.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in Japan, and they agreed to strengthen cooperation in security and economic fields, among other areas.

A pillar of security cooperation is the promotion of joint drills for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief by the Self-Defense Forces and the Philippine military. Kishida and Marcos agreed on an “arrangement” to facilitate visits by the SDF to the Philippines. The arrangement is intended to lead to a future facilitation agreement that would expand the scope of joint training to include all aspects of defense.

If such an accord is concluded, the Philippines will become the third country to do so with Japan, after Australia and the United Kingdom, and the first in Asia.

The security environment surrounding Japan has deteriorated drastically. It is highly significant that frameworks for defense cooperation are being expanded in preparation for emergencies.

Taiwan and the Philippines’ northernmost island are only about 100 kilometers apart. The importance of the Philippines from a geopolitical viewpoint is increasing amid growing concern about an emergency involving Taiwan.

At a U.S.-Philippines defense ministerial meeting earlier this month, an agreement was reached to increase the number of bases the U.S. military can use in the Philippines from the current five to nine. The U.S. military may be aiming to hold China in check by increasing the number of supply sites and temporarily stationing troops in the country.

Subic Bay, facing the South China Sea, had hosted the largest U.S. military base in Asia. But in the 1990s, Manila refused to let Washington continue stationing troops there, and the U.S. forces withdrew. Many believe that a “power vacuum” allowed China to establish military bases in the South China Sea.

To avoid repeating the same mistake, it is essential to work toward regional stability through multilateral cooperation, including a Japan-U.S.-Australia framework and among Southeast Asian countries, based on the concept of a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”

The Philippines, whose population exceeded 100 million in the mid-2010s, has the potential for economic growth. At the same time, however, its infrastructure, including its transportation network, is still weak. Many business leaders accompanied Marcos to Japan. It is likely that they were hoping for Japanese assistance.

At the summit meeting, Kishida revealed a plan to provide the Philippines with a total of ¥600 billion in public and private sector assistance over two years, including yen loans for a railroad improvement project in Metropolitan Manila. Through economic cooperation, Japan also needs to realize its own growth.

The repatriation of Japanese nationals suspected of involvement in a series of wide-area robbery cases in Japan has been realized. The prime minister expressed his gratitude to Marcos. An agreement on cooperation between Japan and Philippine authorities in investigations and the conclusion of a bilateral extradition treaty are important issues to consider.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 11, 2023)