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Japan Is Ready To Protect The Philippines

July 10, 2019

Via JMSDF / Philippine Navy.

The end of June saw a remarkable demonstration by two friendly navies. A total of four ships patrolled the Sulu Sea within the Philippines’ territorial waters in yet another exercise meant to build a lasting alliance between Manila and Tokyo. Far from a closely guarded secret, three surface vessels belonging to the JMSDF, including the JS Izumo aircraft carrier, were joined by the Philippine Navy’s (PN) BRP Davao del Sur–the latter is one of two landing platform docks (LPD) made in Indonesia.

Described as a “maritime engagement activity,” once it was completed the JMSDF contingent traveled to Luzon and docked at Subic on June 30 for a goodwill visit.

Arriving at Subic were the JS Izumo and its two escorts, the destroyers JS Akubono and JS Murasame, and the PN noted this was the third visit by Japanese warships in 2019; a sure indicator of very warm relations. The deepening role of Japan’s military in the Philippines, equal parts persistent and subtle, does contrast the much scrutinized relationship between President Rodrigo Duterte and Beijing. The ramming incident on June 9 that endangered the lives of 22 Filipino seamen was a PR disaster for Duterte, whose much touted friendship with his Chinese counterpart requires him to not push back against Beijing’s claims over the Philippines’ vast territorial waters.

Meanwhile, from 2015 onward Japan has made serious inroads within the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and there are multiple events where Filipino officers have met and collaborated with their Japanese counterparts. There are now three operational domains where Japan’s help is making a huge difference in the Philippines’ national security.

First and foremost in Tokyo’s remarkable willingness to supply the AFP and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) with new equipment. Indeed, if the five propeller-driven Beechcraft surveillance aircraft weren’t delivered from 2017 to 2018 the AFP have close to zero options for enhancing its awareness and operational reach over the country’s borders. Likewise the substantial material support for the PCG, who now have better patrol boats and ancillary kit thanks to Japan.

A secondary channel for Japan’s quiet support for the Philippines is a continuous schedule of meetings between their respective defense ministries and military leaders. Last April, in fact, a conference in Tokyo established new benchmarks for the budding alliance without getting too specific. The Department of National Defense (DND), however, did emphasize the scope of its relationship with Japan, spanning humanitarian missions, ship repair, and aircraft pilot training. It’s important to note all these activities, though harmless, involves military equipment for air and sea deployment or the two relevant domains for protecting Philippine territory.

The third and most obvious area of collaboration between Manila and Tokyo are exercises similar to those held in June, where Filipino military personnel operate alongside the JMSDF. In May the PN sent one of its frigates to Singapore along with other vessels from the JMSDF and US Navy. Before that, the RIMPAC exercises in Hawaii last year had a PN frigate and an LPD carrying marines traveling with the Indian and Japanese navies. There’s no doubt PN ships are sailing together with the JMSDF again in 2020 and beyond.

If this looks like Japan’s regional influence is on the rise, which it is, a similar relationship involving the Philippine military and China’s PLA doesn’t exist on the same scale, although the latter have been accommodated like an ally during friendly visits. But taking stock of the AFP’s modernization plans and doctrine reveals many different suppliers except for the Chinese. Now more than ever, Japan and the US have shown they’re ready to stand by the Philippines in uncertain times.

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