By Chen Yang
The Philippine media reported that the Department of National Defense of the Philippines recently decided to buy the J/FPS-3air defense radar system from Japan.The radar system will help enhance the Philippine air force’s air defense early warning capability by monitoring the stealth fighters and detecting the low-altitude missiles. This is the first weapon export deal of the Abe administration since it lifted the ban of “Three Principles on Arms Exports” in 2014. Why does Japan choose the Philippines as the first buyer of its arms sale?
The military cooperation between the two countries began to warm up during Aquino III administration, but mainly was maintained by free provision of arms. For instance, Japan presented 10 newly built patrol boats to the Philippines in 2016, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) donated TC-90 training planes to the Philippine Navy in March 2018 and agreed in June to hand over the parts of UH-1H Huey helicopters to the Philippine air force for material reserves . Manila may continue to buy other military equipment from Tokyo after the current arms deal.
Not merely to strengthen military cooperation with Manila through arms trade, the Abe administration intends to fill America’s military absence in the Asia Pacific.
Both Japan and the Philippines are America’s traditional allies in the Asian Pacific region, but after Duterte became president in 2016, Manila began to review its defense relation with Washington. In February this year, it announced to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US, not allowing American troops to be stationed in the Philippines any longer or American vessels berthed at its ports. This will undoubtedly shake the defense network that the US and its allies have established in the Asia Pacific. Under such circumstances, Tokyo, by strengthening the defense relation with Manila and selling military equipment to it, hopes to fill the security vacuum left by the withdrawal of American troops and retain the Philippines in America’s Asia-Pacific strategic layout.
In the meantime, Japan hopes to enhance its presence on the diplomatic front.
A major reason behind the US-Philippines tension is that Washington has kept interfering in the Philippines’ internal affairs through “long-arm jurisdiction”, which hit Duterte’s political bottom line and eventually drove the two countries farther apart. Japan reckons that if it maintains good bilateral relations with both the Philippines and the US and acts as a “mediator” between them, it will be able to enhance its diplomatic presence in the international community.
However, it won’t be easy for Japan to play the “mediator” as its diplomatic policy is under American influence now and then. Besides, Manila’s diplomatic policies also change drastically due to the shift of administration. Therefore, Japanwill face a big challenge if it wants to pursue more political and diplomatic interests by intensifying the defense cooperation with the Philippines.