A picture shows the FPS-3ME, new warning and control radar system, as assistance from Japan to the Philippines. (Profile picture)
By Hua Dan, Wang Zeyan, and Yang Jing
From November 3 to 4, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio visited the Philippines and held a summit with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. The two sides have agreed to start negotiations on a Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA).
Analysts have pointed out that once the agreement is signed, it means that Japan and the Philippines can deploy armed forces on each other's territory, and the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) can also carry out large-scale and highly integrated joint defense drills or other military operations in collaboration with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). The continuous strengthening of military collusion between Japan and the Philippines is bound to deliver an array of negative impacts on the regional security situation.
Continuous strengthening of military collusion
On the day before Kishida’s visit to the Philippines, the Japanese Ministry of Defense announced that Japan had decided to provide the Philippines with Japan's coastal surveillance radar system and other equipment under the new Official Security Assistance (OSA) framework, to enhance the Philippine military's "maritime situational awareness" capability.
In fact, the bilateral military collusion has started long before. During the tenure of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan donated several second-hand patrol boats to the Philippines and helped it train maritime security personnel. In April 2022, the two countries held their first "2+2" meeting between foreign ministers and defense ministers in Tokyo, Japan, reaching an agreement on dispatching troops of the JSDF to the Philippines for disaster relief operations and other matters. As revealed by the Japanese Ministry of Defense, Japan has also prepared to provide the Philippines with a batch of small patrol boats for free in addition to the radar system and even additional large patrol boats to come.
Notably, the two sides are to initiate the negotiations on the RAA. The United States and the Philippines have signed the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). Once the RAA between Japan and the Philippines is reached, the JSDF could have the right to be deployed to the Philippines, finding a new foothold to meddle in the situation in the South China Sea and promote the US' "Indo-Pacific strategy".
Ramping up to something for each with ulterior motives
Japan and the Philippines have been getting closer in military cooperation, each having ulterior motives.
In recent years, the JSDF has been constantly shifting its focus towards the southwest, as evidently shown. Supporting the Philippines in strengthening its military strength serves to help Japan make up for the relatively weak military deployment of the JSDF in the southwest, further tie the Philippines to the Japanese chariot, and then encourage the Philippines to instigate disputes over islands and reefs in the South China Sea, with a view to curbing the rise of neighboring countries.
From the perspective of the Philippines, on the one hand, it can take the opportunity to introduce relevant equipment to embolden its adventurous operations in the South China Sea; on the other hand, as the Philippines has already been an ally to the United States, the continuous deepening of the military collusion between Japan and the Philippines has more or less the intention of encircling China in following the United States. However, this move taken by the Philippines is tantamount to inviting a wolf into the house and will ultimately tie itself to the chariots of the United States and Japan even more firmly.
Provoking tension and undermining peace
Japan has stubbornly adhered to the zero-sum mentality in confrontation. It has smeared and sensationalized the normal military construction and military activities of neighboring countries by distorting the facts and strengthened military collusion with the Philippines to instigate military confrontation, posing serious challenges to regional peace and stability.
On the one hand, the move has boosted the possibility of the Philippines engaging in risky military operations on the South China Sea issue. Disregarding repeated warnings from the Chinese authorities, Philippine vessels recently have deliberately stirred up trouble on islands and reefs in the South China Sea. Such behavior by the Philippines allows major powers outside the region to sow discord and mislead international public opinion.
On the other hand, this move provided more opportunities for Japan to break through the pacifist Constitution. In recent years, Japan has expanded its overseas influence by sales of military weapons, overseas military training, and so on, while taking every opportunity to gain support from relevant countries. The signing and entry into force of the Japan-Philippines ARR will render Japan the right to deploy land, sea or air self-defense forces to the Philippines. Relying on military cooperation with Southeast Asian countries, Japan intends to achieve its ambition of "normalization" of the nation and national defense, adding uncertainty to the regional situation.
However, the Japan-Philippines relations don't have a solid foundation, and the historical issues between the two countries are yet to be fully resolved. During World War II, the Japanese armed forces committed countless crimes in the Philippines, especially in the Manila Massacre in February 1945, where over 100,000 Filipino civilians were brutally killed. If the JSDF's presence in the Philippines becomes a reality, it is likely to evoke memories of the bitter history among the public and provoke their resentment and rejection towards Japan.
The military collusion between Japan and the Philippines is very wrong and dangerous, which only exacerbates regional tensions and undermines the political foundation of relations with neighboring countries. The international community, especially neighboring countries, should pay close attention and be vigilant.
(The authors are from the PLA Army Engineering University)