Philippines, Japan eye signing key defense pact amid China tensions

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Romeo Brawner speaks during a press conference after a command conference with Philippines’ President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (not pictured) at the military headquarters in Manila on July 4, 2024. The Philippines’ military chief said on July 4 he hoped a key defence pact with Japan allowing for the deployment of troops on each other’s territory will be signed at security talks next week. (Photo by Ted ALJIBE / AFP)


MANILA, July 5, 2024 (AFP) – The Philippines’ military chief said Thursday he hoped a key defence pact with Japan allowing for the deployment of troops on each other’s territory will be signed at security talks next week.

Japanese Defence Minister Minoru Kihara and Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa are set to meet their Philippine counterparts in Manila on Monday.

The Philippines and Japan — longtime allies of the United States — have been boosting ties in the face of an increasingly confrontational China, which is locked in maritime territorial disputes with both countries.

“We are hoping that during that meeting, the RAA, or the reciprocal access agreement, will be signed,” military chief General Romeo Brawner told reporters.

“RAA is important because it will allow Japanese forces, Japanese troops to come into our country to conduct training with us. It will also allow our troops to go to Japan to train with them.”

The Philippines and Japan began negotiating the pact in November.

The accord would create the legal basis for the countries to send defence personnel to each other’s territory for training and other operations.

Tokyo has signed similar reciprocal access agreements with Britain and Australia in recent years.

The Philippines has equivalent pacts with the United States and Australia and plans to pursue one with France.

Japan, which invaded and occupied the Philippines during World War II, is a top provider of overseas development assistance to the Southeast Asian country and also a supplier of security equipment.

The Philippines agreed in May to buy five 97-metre coast guard patrol ships from Japan in a deal worth more than $400 million.

Leaders from Japan, the Philippines and the United States held their first trilateral summit in April aimed at boosting defence ties in Washington.

It was held on the heels of four-way military drills that included Australia in the South China Sea, riling Beijing.

Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea, brushing aside competing claims from several Southeast Asian nations, including the Philippines, and an international ruling that its stance has no legal basis.

The long-running territorial dispute between Manila and Beijing flared last month when Chinese coast guard personnel wielding knives, sticks and an axe surrounded and boarded three Philippine navy boats during a resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands.

It was the most serious in a number of escalating confrontations.

Brawner said after that violent clash Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos had ordered the military to de-escalate tensions with China.

But Brawner insisted that the military would continue to resupply the remote outpost.

A handful of Filipino troops are stationed on a rusty warship deliberately grounded on Second Thomas Shoal in 1999 to assert Manila’s claims to the area.

“We won’t allow China to make this area a territory,” he said, insisting Beijing should pay 60 million pesos (about $1 million) for damaging Philippine equipment during the June clash.