Japan’s Kishida Visits the Philippines to Bolster Military Ties Amid South China Sea Tensions

Japan’s Kishida Visits the Philippines to Bolster Military Ties Amid South China Sea Tensions

Japan will seek to bolster military ties with the Philippines during a visit to Manila by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida that comes after tensions escalated between Beijing and the Southeast Asian nation over a territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

Japan will pledge to provide defense equipment to the Philippine military under a new aid framework and the two governments are expected to start talks on an agreement governing mutual access for one another’s troops, according to the Yomiuri newspaper. Kishida will meet with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Friday and is set to give the first-ever speech by a Japanese premier to the Philippine Congress on Saturday.

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The two countries will reaffirm cooperation on “maintaining the free and open international order based on the rule of law,” Kishida told reporters before departing Tokyo.

Shocked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — Kishida often says a similar attack could happen in Asia — long-pacifist Japan is planning its biggest defense buildup since World War II and seeking to strengthen security ties with like-minded nations that share concerns about China.

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The day before Kishida’s visit, Mitsubishi Electric and Japan’s Ministry of Defense announced the delivery of the first of four radar units to the Philippines under a 2020 contract. The handover marks the first such transfer of domestically produced defense equipment since restrictions on their export were relaxed in 2014. Japan has also supplied ships to the Philippines’ coast guard.

Last month, tensions between the Philippines and China escalated when vessels from the two countries collided in the disputed waters. Government ships from Japan and China also seek to expel one another from waters around islands in the East China Sea near Taiwan claimed by both countries on a regular basis.

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Kishida will move on to Malaysia on Saturday, where he will also seek to strengthen defense ties, according to documents distributed to reporters by Japan’s foreign ministry. 

In a recent example of expanding cooperation, Japan took part in a multilateral exercise in the South China Sea alongside the U.S., Australia, Canada and New Zealand last month.

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