Japan, Philippines Sign Defense Deal as China Tensions Drag

(Bloomberg) -- Japan and the Philippines on Monday signed a key agreement that would facilitate mutual military visits, as the US allies deepen their defense ties amid lingering tensions with China.

Most Read from Bloomberg

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. witnessed the signing of the Reciprocal Access Agreement, which he previously hailed as a boost to his country’s security. The agreement was signed by Japan Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa and Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro.

“The RAA brings our defense partnership to an unprecedented height,” Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said in a joint briefing following the 2+2 meeting with Japanese counterparts in Manila. “We also explored other measures to enhance and coordinate our defense and security policies,” Manalo added.

The pact sets the stage for “interoperability exercises” between the two nations, Teodoro said at the briefing. The deal is similar to Manila’s visiting forces agreements with US and Australia, he added.

It also dovetails with Marcos’ efforts to bolster ties with what he calls like-minded nations as his administration pushes back against Beijing’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea. Manila is also in talks for visiting forces agreements with France and Canada.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Marcos earlier this year met with US President Joe Biden where they pledged to bolster security ties. Their countries also form an emerging regional group with Australia called the “Squad.”

Asked about the Japan-Philippines defense pact during a regular press briefing in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian said the Asia-Pacific region “does not need a military grouping or the stoking up of bloc confrontation and the smoke signals of a new cold war.”

“For countries to have communication and cooperation, it should not undermine mutual understanding and trust of countries in the region. It should not undermine regional peace and stability, it should not target any third party or undermine third party interests,” the Chinese official said.

Japan has emerged as one of Manila’s major investors and strategic partners, backing the Philippines in its effort to safeguard its maritime claims in the South China Sea, including in maritime patrols and defense equipment. Both nations are facing similar security challenges.

“We have stated strong opposition to unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force and coercion,” Japan’s top envoy Kamikawa said at the briefing, citing “dangerous activities” more recently around the Second Thomas Shoal.

Manila has been clashing with Beijing’s vessels in the South China Sea in recent months as both assert their claims in the crucial waterway. Tokyo has also been locked in a dispute with Beijing over claims to a set of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

Japan is concerned with the “unlawful maritime claims and oppose the dangerous and coercive use of the coast guard and maritime militia vessels in the South China Sea,” Defense Minister Minoru Kihara said in the briefing.

--With assistance from Yasufumi Saito, Ditas Lopez and James Mayger.

(Adds China’s comments. An earlier version corrects spelling of Spratly Islands in map, and removes reference to Japan and China dispute as century-old.)

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.