This week, a Japanese destroyer paid a goodwill visit to the Philippines. Though the engagement made headlines in and of itself, it also holds broader significance within the frame of Japan-Philippines defense ties, particularly in the maritime domain.
As I have been noting in these pages, despite lingering uncertainties and some refocusing following the election of Duterte, Japan-Philippines defense ties have nonetheless continued strengthening in some areas of the maritime realm as part of their broader partnership. Indeed, security ties have factored into a busy few weeks for the relationship, which included Duterte visiting Tokyo last month and Abe visiting Manila earlier this month for the recent round of ASEAN summitry (See: “Japan-Philippines Defense Relations Under Duterte: Full Steam Ahead?”).
A number of maritime security-specific interactions have also been occurring over the past few weeks, including the commissioning of three Japanese vessels by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) as well as the holding of an expanded version of a bilateral maritime law enforcement exercise (MARLEN) that included coast guard personnel from other Southeast Asian states as well (See: “ASEAN-Japan Coast Guard Cooperation in the Spotlight with Philippines Exercise”).
Ship visits are another indicator of bilateral defense ties, and those have been continuing as well through the year between the two sides. In early January, the JS Inazuma (DDG-105) and JS Suzutsuki (DD-117) docked in Subic Bay for a six-day goodwill visit. And in June, JS Izumo (DDH-183) and guided missile destroyer JS Sazanami (DDG-113) were in Subic Bay, Zambales for a four-day goodwill visit.
On November 26, JS Onami, a Takanami-class destroyer, paid a two-day goodwill visit to the Philippines and replenishment after participating in the ASEAN International Fleet Review in Thailand, part of a series of commemorative activities the regional grouping has organized in conjunction with its 50th anniversary this year which has also catalyzed the number of such maritime interactions in the region (See: “ASEAN’s First Navy Exercise in Perspective”). This makes it the third JMSDF vessel to visit this country this year, according to the Philippine Navy.
The JS Onami, commanded by Commander Hirotaka Okumura, was met and escorted and accorded a customary welcome ceremony upon arrival, along with a port briefing upon arrival at Pier 15, South Harbor, Manila, on Sunday. The PN said in a statement that the visit aimed to both strengthen bilateral ties between the PN and JMSDF as well as sustain the promotion of peace, stability, and maritime cooperation in the region. Few additional details were publicly disclosed about the engagement.