Asia Defense

Japan’s Defense Minister to Visit Philippines to Boost Security Ties

Reports suggest Gen Nakatani’s trip to Manila could occur as early as April.

Japan’s defense minister Gen Nakatani could visit the Philippines as early as April this year to beef up security ties between the two nations as they celebrate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic ties, Kyodo News reported January 5.

According to a government source, the visit, which may take place during the Golden Week holidays from late April to early May, would build on existing defense pacts reached between the two strategic partners in 2015. These include a memorandum of understanding to enhance defense cooperation reached in January as well as an agreement in principle covering the transfer of defense equipment and technology in November (See: “Japan, Philippines to Agree New Military Deal on APEC Sidelines”).

Agenda items, the source said, could include discussion about Japan providing further support for the Philippine military. In November, Japanese premier Shinzo Abe had said that Tokyo would “consider the specifics” of Manila’s request for the provision of large patrol vessels to the Philippine coast guard. But Japanese officials had also said that it would be some time before the actual transfer of defense equipment and technology takes place, with legal and financial technicalities still to be worked out.

In that vein, during Nakatani’s visit, observers will be looking to see if there is progress or additional specifics on any more of such Japanese assistance. Of particular note will be whether Tokyo moves any closer to beginning to supply Beechcraft TC-90 King Air Planes to Manila. The TC-90s, currently used to train Japanese Self Defense Force pilots, can be fitted with basic surface and air surveillance radar which could be used in the South China Sea. Previous reports have also indicated that other transfers may follow as well, including used Lockheed Martin submarine-hunting P3-C patrol planes.

Both sides could also discuss other avenues for deepening cooperation, including expanding joint exercises between Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) and the Philippine Navy. This is a new dimension of the defense relationship, with the two sides holding their first drills just last year. As I reported for The Diplomat, Tokyo and Manila conducted a maritime safety exercise in the South China Sea in May (See: “Japan, Philippines Hold First South China Sea Naval Exercises”), followed by a naval exercise in June (See: “Japan, Philippines to Hold New South China Sea Naval Exercise”).

The source also said that Nakatani would convey Japan’s support for the Philippines’ ongoing South China Sea case against China with the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague (See: “Does the Philippines’ South China Sea Case Against China Really Matter?”). A ruling is expected later this year.

Nakatani’s visit would come after the much-anticipated trip of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko to the Philippines from January 26 to January 30 as the two countries commemorate the 60th anniversary of their ties. The trip this month will be the first ever by a Japanese emperor to the Philippines.