Later this week, a Japanese ship will be docking in the Philippines for a port visit. Though the development itself has been classed as a routine development in bilateral ties, it is nonetheless significant when viewed from the broader perspective of advances in the Japan-Philippines defense relationship despite some remaining challenges for ties presented by the administration of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
As I have noted before, Japan and the Philippines have a defense relationship that has continued on and strengthened in some areas in spite of the uncertainties and subsequent refocusing we have seen under Duterte (See: “A Big Week for Japan-Philippines Defense Ties”). This includes not only regular ports visits and exchanges, but also equipment and training as Japan looks to boost ties with the Philippines and other Southeast Asian states in the defense realm while Manila eyes ways to strengthen its limited military capabilities to address a series of challenges.
Those interactions have continued into 2018, including in terms of port visits and naval engagements. Several Japanese vessels have already visited the Philippines this year, including the destroyer JS Amagiri, which was there in February, and another destroyer JS Akizuki, which just visited earlier this month amid an active maritime week that also included a visit by the U.S. and Australian vessels as well.
On Thursday, a Japanese ship is scheduled to arrive in Manila for a three-day port visit. According to the Philippine Navy (PN), the JS Osumi (LST-4001) will be docking at Pier 15 in South Harbor, with the visiting officers and crew of 140 led by Commander of Landing Ship Division One Captain Tomonori Kobayashi and the ship’s commanding officer Captain Yuki Horikawa.
The JS Osumi is the frontrunner of the Osumi-class tank landing ships within the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces (JMSDF). It has been described as a small aircraft carrier, even though its ability to actually carry aircraft is quite limited relatively speaking and its design was initially around being able to help move Ground Self-Defense Forces, including tanks (hence the name), within Japan.
Few details were disclosed about the exact nature of interactions during the ship’s visit. The PN’s statement on the engagements read as fairly standard, including a customary welcome ceremony, a port briefing, and other interactions between Philippine and Japanese personnel. But in light of broader dynamics at play, including the recalibration underway in Philippine foreign policy, Japan’s greater focus on Southeast Asia, and China’s continued rise, individual developments such as these are worth watching carefully.