By Wen Weiru
Japanese Navy’s destroyer JS Ise visits the Philippines. (File photo)
The Philippine President Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos made an official visit to Japan from February 8 to 12, and met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on February 9, according to Japanese media reports. It is learnt that this is the first visit to Japan by Marcos since he took office in June 2022. The two sides will actively promote economic, trade and defense cooperation.
The Department of National Defense of the Philippines and the Ministry of Defense of Japan signed a defense cooperation document on humanitarian support and disaster relief on February 9, which will facilitate joint exercises between the two sides.
The defense relationship between Japan and the Philippines has improved significantly in recent years. In April 2022, the Philippine foreign minister and defense minister went to Tokyo for the first "two-plus-two" talks with Japanese counterparts and reached a consensus on signing the Reciprocal Access Agreement to facilitate joint exercises. Prior to that, Japan's Mitsubishi Electric Corporation exported four air defense radar systems to the Philippines, which is the first order since the revision of The Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology. In addition, the sea and air forces of the two countries have also established bilateral exercise mechanisms. In June 2022, Japan sent a C-130H transport aircraft and about 20 members of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) to participate in the military exercise hosted by the Philippine Air Force, and sent a signal to the Philippines that it would strengthen the export of military space technology to the Philippines. In November 2022, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force sent frigates to the Philippines for joint training exercise with vessels of the Philippine Navy around Subic Bay. In December, with the permission of the Philippines, two F-15 fighter jets of the JASDF arrived at the Philippines’ Clark Air Base and stayed for several days for military exchanges.
Judging from the process of Marcos' visit to Japan, the Philippine side focuses on the economic field while the Japanese side focuses on the defense field. In fact, Japan has continued to build up its defense relationship with the Philippines in recent years out of two considerations.
The first is to expand arms exports. Japan urgently needs to solve the dilemma of the military industry and open the international arms and technology export situation. Japan hopes to expand its arms export market by strengthening bilateral ties and turning the Philippines into a customer. The second is to expand the so-called “Indo-Pacific mechanism” and enhance regional influence. Japan regards the Philippines as a security strategic pivot in the Indo-Pacific region and has been trying to win over the Philippines as its ally by strengthening US-Japan-Philippines relations, so as to gain regional competitive advantages.
For the Philippines, Marcos hopes to maximize its own interests making use of its geographical advantages. According to data from the Philippine News Agency in 2021, Japan is the Philippines' second-largest trading partner, third-largest export market and second-largest source of imports. It is undoubtedly a good deal for the Philippines to continuously gain economic benefits through strengthening relations with Japan. However, since it is business, getting what is needed and controlling risks are equally important. Once the pains outweighs the gains, doing business will lose the meaning of mutual benefit. Therefore, the trend of the Japan-Philippines relationship remains to be further observed.