Last week, Japan and the Philippines held another iteration of a defense ministerial meeting. Though the interaction is just one of many developments their relationship, it is not without significance for the defense relationship and broader bilateral ties as well.
As I have noted in these pages, while Japan and the Philippines have long had a bilateral relationship, the development of the defense aspect of ties has been accelerating over the past few years, covering various issues including not just defense equipment and transfer, but also critical capacity-building and broader regional cooperation in areas ranging from cybersecurity to maritime security. Some of that has continued in spite of changes on both sides of the wider Japan-Philippines strategic partnership, including the rise of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Japan moving into the Reiwa era.
That has continued on into 2019 as well. To take just one example, last month, both sides finally broke ground on a new agreement where Japan offered helicopter spare parts to the Philippines, making the Manila the first Southeast Asian country to receive such a deal from Tokyo, following the conclusion of other deals including one for TC-90s which also had broader significance beyond just the bilateral relationship.
Last week, the defense aspect of the relationship was in the headlines again with the visit of Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to Japan. Lorenzana was in Japan for a series of interactions including ministerial talks with Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya.
During the meeting, Lorenzana and Iwaya discussed the state of defense ties, regional and global issues of common interest, and potential avenues to further strengthen the defense relationship. Per a statement by the Philippine Department of National Defense (DND), both sides agreed to deepen cooperation in several areas, including collaboration in multilateral fora, capacity building, defense industry and logistics, and exchanges in various areas by the Japan Self Defense Forces (JSDF) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), including humanitarian assistance and disaster response between ground forces, ship repair and maintenance between maritime forces, and professional airmanship between air forces.
To be sure, this is just one of several interactions between the two sides. More specifics will also be outlined in future meetings through 2019 and beyond, be it scheduled meetings such as the next iteration of the Japan-Philippines Vice Ministers’ Defense Dialogue, to be held sometime this year, or discrete interactions that will make headlines, like the goodwill visit of the JSDF’s largest destroyer, JS Izumo, to be expected in July 2019.