Over the past few days, Japanese warships have been on a goodwill visit to the Philippines. The interaction has spotlighted the ongoing defense collaboration between Japan and the Philippines that has been developing over the past few years, including in the maritime domain.
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 the challenges posed by the rise of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
That has continued on into 2019 as well. Both sides have been continuing to make inroads in aspects of their security ties, including new defense deals and aspects of training and assistance. And there have been efforts to further enhance defense collaboration during high-level meetings, be it defense-specific ones such as the meeting between their defense ministers in April and the summit engagement between Duterte and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that occurred in Tokyo back in May.
Over the past few days, this aspect of the relationship was in the headlines again with a visit by Japanese vessels. Two Japanese warships were in the Philippines for a scheduled visit to the Southeast Asian country which kicked off over the weekend.
Per the Philippine Navy, two Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) ships, the JS Bungo (MST-464) and the JS Takashima (MSC-603), were on a three-day goodwill visit to the Philippines which lasted from September 21 to September 23. This reportedly constituted the sixth interaction of this kind so far in 2019.
The goodwill visit consisted of a series of engagements. The ships initially docked at Pier 15 at Manila South Harbor Saturday for the three-day goodwill ship, and there were a number of engagements including an arrival ceremony and a press conference that were conducted thereafter.
Beyond that, personnel on both sides also held a series of consultations as well. And to cap the visit, both sides also were scheduled to conduct a brief passing exercise in Manila Bay before the departure of the Japanese vessels from the Philippines.
The navy’s acting public affairs office director, Christina Roxas, characterized the visit as “another demonstration of fostering commitment to the maritime commitment between neighboring nations, which benefits regional peace and stability.” And while it is certainly just one of several interactions between the two sides, it nonetheless deserves attention amid the broader defense relationship as well as wider domestic and foreign policy developments for Japan and the Philippines.