The air forces of Japan and the Philippines will hold their first-ever joint exercises next week, Japan’s embassy in Manila said yesterday, hailing the event as “a significant milestone for defense cooperation between Japan and the Philippines.”
The air-to-air bilateral training exercises will take place from July 5 to 8 at Clark Air Base, a former U.S. military base on the island of Luzon, and will focus on humanitarian and disaster relief, the Japanese Embassy said in a statement.
The exercises will involve a C-130H cargo aircraft from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF), and will focus on “strengthening interoperability for delivering relief goods to affected people in isolated areas in severe emergency situations.” The training exercise with the Philippine Air Force will include load/offload training and simulated airdrop training.
“Japan and the Philippines are both natural disaster-prone countries and there are so much we can share on disaster relief operations for saving lives,” Maj. Mizuno Masaki of the JASDF said in the statement.
The exercises are also a clear indication of the increasing level of security cooperation between Manila and Tokyo in the face of China’s expansive claims and the build-up of its naval and maritime capabilities.
Of course, Japan-Philippines relations extend beyond mutual concerns about China. As Prashanth Parameswaran has noted in these pages, it was in Manila that former Japanese Prime Minister Fukuda Takeo delivered his famous “Fukuda Doctrine” speech in 1977, which directly addressed imperial Japan’s brutal occupation of Southeast Asian nations during World War II and helped close a dark chapter of history. (The Japanese occupation of the Philippines also laid the basis for a close and continuing association between the Japanese nationalist right-wing and prominent Filipino political families, including the family of the late former President Benigno Aquino III.)
At the same time, it is undeniable that mutual concerns about China play an increasingly important role in the two nations’ current relations, and that frictions with China over the East and South China Seas have gradually pushed Tokyo and Manila into closer strategic alignment over the past decade.
In 2011, the two governments signed a strategic partnership, and since 2015, have conducted 17 joint naval drills. In February 2016, Japan and the Philippines signed a new defense agreement allowing the transfer of defense equipment and technology from Japan to the Philippines. The pact also permitted the two countries to conduct joint research and development, and even joint production, of defense equipment and technology.
The first of these deals materialized in August of last year, when the two nations agreed to the Philippines’ purchase of a $100 million warning and control radar system developed by Mitsubishi Electric – the first sale of Japanese defense technology to a Southeast Asian nation. In May of this year, the two nations also announced the delivery of $1.1 million in disaster-relief tools including jackhammers, sonars, and engine cutters, among other things.
In its statement announcing next week’s exercises, the Japanese embassy “reiterates the importance of maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) which is inclusive and based on the rule of law, democratic values, territorial integrity, transparency, and peaceful resolution of disputes” – all codes for opposition to China’s increasing maritime aggression.
The joint air exercises represent just the next step in the incremental improvement of defense relations between Japan and the Philippines, which will continue to converge as long as Beijing keeps up its pressure in the maritime domain.