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Facing China, Philippines and Japan forge defense alliance

July 8, 2024

Tokyo and Manila have long been allies of the United States, which has been strengthening its alliances to counter China's growing military strength and influence in the region.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (R) shakes hands with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. ahead of their talks in Tokyo on Dec. 17, 2023.
The defense pact with the Philippines is Japan's first in Asia Image: Kyodo/picture alliance

Japan and the Philippines signed a key defense pact on Monday that would enable them to deploy troops in each other's countries, as they bolster security relations amid China's growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region.

The Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) was signed in Manila, with Japanese Defense Minister Minoru Kihara and Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa meeting their Philippine counterparts Gilberto Teodoro and Enrique Manalo.

"A free and open international order based on the rule of law is the foundation of regional peace and prosperity," she said. "We would like to work closely with your country to maintain and strengthen this," Kamikawa said. 

The defense pact with Manila is Tokyo's first in Asia.

Japan has previously signed similar deals with Australia in 2022 and with the UK in 2023. It also upgraded a longstanding treaty with the US, originally from 1951, in April this year.

Countering China

A Japanese military presence in the Philippines could help Manila counter Beijing as China exerts increased influence over the South China Sea.

Confrontations between Chinese and Philippine ships have escalated in recent months as China doubles down to push its claims to nearly all of the strategically crucial waterway.

In the worst faceoff so far, Chinese coast guard personnel armed with knives, spears and an ax on motorboats repeatedly rammed and destroyed two Philippine navy supply vessels on June 17 in the disputed Second Thomas Shoal.

 A Filipino sailor lost his thumb in the incident.

Japan has a separate territorial dispute with China over islands in the East China Sea.

Philippines will not yield in South China Sea

The Philippines has a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States and Australia.    

The United States too has been strengthening military alliances in the Indo-Pacific to tackle China's clout.

In April, three-way talks were held at the White House between the leaders of the US, Japan, and the Philippines, during which President Joe Biden renewed Washington's "ironclad" vow to defend Tokyo and Manila.

During World War II, Japan invaded and occupied the Philippines, but the two nations have since grown closer with trade and investment.

Japan is an important supplier of security equipment to the Philippines, including patrol vessels for its coast guard and a coastal radar surveillance system.

dvv/lo (AFP, AP, Reuters)