This week, a Japanese destroyer docked in the Philippines for a weekend goodwill visit. Although the visit itself was a routine development in bilateral ties, it nonetheless reinforced some of the interactions underway in the Japan-Philippines defense relationship amid wider developments.
As I have noted before, Japan and the Philippines have a defense relationship that has continued strengthening in spite of the uncertainties and refocusing we have seen under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. This includes not only visits and exchanges, but also equipment and training, with Japan looks to boost ties with the Philippines and other Southeast Asian states in the defense realm, and Manila eyeing ways to strengthen its limited military capabilities to address a series of challenges.
This general trajectory has continued on over the past year or so. Defense-related developments, both between the two sides as well as occasional ones with other actors, have continued on, with some newer interactions as well including a recent headline-grabbing exercise that also featured India and the United States. More generally, both sides have been working towards an upcoming visit of Duterte to Japan where several elements of the progress made between the two countries will be in the spotlight.
Over the weekend, this aspect of the defense relationship was in the headlines again with the visit of a Japanese destroyer to the Philippines, The JS Samidare (DD-106), a Murasame-class destroyer of the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF), paid a pre-arranged goodwill visit to the Philippines which lasted from May 17 to May 19. The visit effectively constituted the second of its kind by the JSMDF in the Philippines this year following one by the JS Ikazuchi back in late January.
The visit of the JS Samidare, which arrived along with two SH-60K patrol helicopters and 200 officers and enlisted personnel, had several components. Following the docking of the destroyer at the Alava Wharf of Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) in Olongapo City, it engaged in different interactions that included a welcome ceremony, a courtesy call, and several.
No other specifics were publicly provided regarding the scope of maritime activities between the two sides during the series of visits this week. But in light of the new balance the Philippines is trying to seek between pursuing closer ties with China and addressing challenges while also preserving its ties with its traditional allies and partners, activities like the destroyer visit are worth watching closely.