Japan, Philippines Sign Defense Pact Amid Rising Tensions With China

The agreement will allow the two countries to deploy their forces on each other’s territory for joint military exercises.

The Philippines and Japan signed a defense pact on July 8 to boost their defense cooperation amid growing tensions with the Chinese communist regime in the Indo–Pacific region.

The Reciprocal Access Agreement, which the countries began negotiating in November 2023, was signed by Filipino Defense Minister Gilberto Teodoro and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa in Manila. The pact allows the two countries to deploy their forces on each other’s territories for joint military exercises, including live-fire drills, and disaster response. The agreement with the Philippines is Japan’s first defense deal in Asia.

The defense pact was signed after multiple clashes between the Chinese regime and the Philippines in the South China Sea.

The agreement aligns with the Philippines’ efforts to build security alliances and strengthen its military’s limited capacity to defend Manila’s territorial interests in the South China Sea.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who witnessed the signing ceremony, said the defense agreement is “extremely important,” while Ms. Kamikawa called it “a groundbreaking achievement.”

“This is another milestone in our shared endeavor to ensure a rules-based international order, to ensure peace and stability in the Indo–Pacific and particularly in our region,” Mr. Teodoro told reporters after the signing.

“The Philippines and other Southeast Asian Nations are situated in … a key junction of Japan’s sea lanes; advancing defense cooperation and exchanges with the Philippines is important for Japan,” Japanese Defense Minister Minoru Kihara said.

The agreement will take effect after ratification by each country’s legislature, Philippine and Japanese officials said.

In an incident on June 17, during a Philippine humanitarian delivery mission to its outpost in the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, Chinese coast guard personnel armed with knives and spears deliberately punctured and rammed Philippine Navy supply vessels. The incident injured several Filipinos, one of whom lost a finger, a Philippine military spokesperson said.

The shoal, part of the disputed Spratly Islands, has been occupied by a small Philippine Navy contingent aboard a grounded warship, which China’s coast guard and navy have closely monitored in a years-long territorial standoff.

Last week, ​​the Philippines demanded $1 million in damages from Beijing to cover the cost of two navy vessels destroyed by Chinese motorboats in the clash and the return of rifles seized by the Chinese coast guard.

Philippine military chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. also warned that Philippine forces would “apply the same level of force” to defend themselves if they were engaged in another confrontation with the Chinese military at the shoal.After last month’s incident, the United States reaffirmed its “ironclad commitments” to the Philippines under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which requires the nations to support each other if either country is attacked. Washington condemned Beijing’s “dangerous and irresponsible actions to deny the Philippines from executing a lawful maritime operation in the South China Sea.”

Tokyo signed similar agreements with Australia in 2022 and with the UK last year. It’s also negotiating a deal with France.

Tokyo also has a long-standing territorial dispute with Beijing in the East China Sea. While Tokyo controls the disputed islands, which it calls the Senkaku Islands, Beijing also claims the area and refers to them as the Diaoyu Islands. Tensions escalated in 2012 when the Japanese government bought some of the islands from a private Japanese owner.

The United States has mutual defense treaties with Japan and also the Philippines. In April, the leaders of the three countries met for a trilateral summit in Washington, where President Joe Biden renewed the U.S. commitment to defend Japan and the Philippines.

At the summit, the three leaders condemned China’s aggressive actions and its unlawful claim over almost the entire South China Sea, urging Beijing to follow the 2016 ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which declared that its maritime claims lack a legal basis under international law. They also announced plans for their coast guards to conduct a trilateral exercise in the Indo–Pacific region in the coming year.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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