On June 5, visiting Philippine president Benigno Aquino said at a press conference in Japan that the two countries would soon start talks on a new pact that would allow Tokyo access to Philippine military bases.
According to The Philippine Star, on the last day of his four-day visit to Japan, Aquino revealed that Tokyo and Manila had discussed such a pact during their summit meeting and that talks could begin soon.
“The Philippines does welcome this development and we will be initiating all the diplomatic requirements to come up with a Visiting Forces Agreement,” Aquino reportedly said during a televised press conference with the Japan National Press Club.
In that press conference, Aquino noted that as of now, only the United States and Australia had a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the Philippines. Adding Japan to that list would seem to make sense. Japan has been a strategic partner since 2011, and both sides have boosted the defense side of their relationship significantly over the past few years (See: “Japan, Philippines Boost Defense Ties”). As I pointed out in a previous piece, defense ties are set to grow even stronger in the future as the two strategic partners vowed in a joint declaration issued during Aquino’s recent visit to conclude an agreement on the transfer of defense equipment and technology and expand bilateral and multilateral trainings and exercises (See: “Japan, Philippines Strengthen Strategic Partnership”). A new VFA was not mentioned in the joint declaration but was reportedly discussed.
As Aquino himself pointed out, even if cooperation between the two strategic partners were restricted mostly to areas such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, such access would pave the way for greater coordination and interoperability.
The use of Philippine bases on a limited and rotational basis would also be useful for Japan as Tokyo seeks to make a more ‘proactive contribution to peace.’ For instance, as I have pointed out before, if Japan were to conduct patrols in the South China Sea in concert with the United States in the future, refueling close to the area in the Philippines would enable the Japan Self Defense Forces to operate for a longer time and over a larger area (See: “US-Japan Joint Patrols in the South China Sea?”).
Of course, the idea still has some way to go before becoming a reality. The two sides would need to work out the exact terms of the VFA between themselves. And as Aquino pointed out, the Philippine Senate would then need to approve of any such agreement with Japan as it did in the case of Australia and the United States.