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Japan and the Philippines strengthen defense ties amid regional tensions

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By Veronica Uy

A delegation of three Japanese defense lawmakers on Friday underscored the importance of deepening defense cooperation between Japan and the Philippines, noting the shared experience of harassment from China in contested waters.

At a press conference held in Hotel Okura Manila, Onodera Itsunori, a prominent member of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and former Minister of Defense, commended Filipino Navy personnel against China’s escalated aggression in the West Philippine Sea conflict.

“While we are very concerned about China’s behavior, we would like to commend the bravery of the Philippine Navy personnel involved in the provisioning. I would also like to extend my sympathy to the personnel affected by the incident,” Itsunori said referring to the June 17 incident where some Navy personnel were injured following an attack by Chinese coast guard personnel.

Itsunori visited the country with fellow LDP parliamentarians Wada Yoshiaki, who was former senior adviser to the Minister of Defense, and Matsukawa Rui, who was former parliamentary Vice Minister of Defense.

The delegation had a series of high-level meetings with National Security Adviser Eduardo Año, Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo, and Secretary of National Defense Gilbert Teodoro. Their talks highlighted the strategic defense partnership between the two countries, particularly through the transfer and collaboration on defense equipment.

Itsunori noted the urgency of enhancing the Philippines’ air defense capabilities and reaffirmed the importance of strengthening ties between the Philippine Armed Forces and Japan’s Self-Defense Forces.

“We recognize the need to further deepen security and defense cooperation between our two countries,” Itsunori said. “The challenges in the West Philippine Sea are legitimate concerns for the international community, impacting regional peace and stability.”

The forthcoming Japan-Philippines 2-plus-2 meeting of defense and foreign chiefs, scheduled for July 8, is expected to further solidify these defense agreements. Itsunori said he is optimistic that the Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) would see rapid progress, enhancing collaborative defense efforts and expediting defense equipment transfers.

Yoshiaki echoed Itsunori’s sentiments, drawing parallels between the maritime disputes faced by the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea and Japan’s experiences with China in the Senkaku Islands. “We are in the same boat,” he said, emphasizing the shared threats and the need for a united stance against unilateral changes to the status quo in the region.

The delegation’s visit also included discussions about further cooperation at key military bases, including Clark Airbase, Basa Airbase, and Subic Bay Navy Base. These talks focused on recent incidents in the region and Japan’s commitment to supporting the Philippine Navy, particularly in light of China’s increasingly aggressive actions.

Itsunori noted Japan’s policy changes, which now allow for the joint development and manufacturing of defense equipment with other countries. This policy shift is seen as a significant step toward enhancing defense collaborations and supporting the modernization of the Philippine Armed Forces under Horizon No. 3.

The Philippines is embarking on an ambitious Horizon No. 3 military modernization initiative amid the escalating territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Despite financial constraints, the country aims to bolster its defense capabilities through strategic acquisitions.

“Promoting the transfer of defense equipment would benefit our country’s interest in the Indo-Pacific region,” Itsunori said. “We are eager to promote various defense collaborations by working with the governments of both countries.”

The Japanese delegation expressed a strong message of solidarity and commitment.

Rui emphasized the natural partnership between Japan and the Philippines, driven by shared threats and mutual respect. “A strong Philippines, through cooperation with Japan, benefits not only our two countries but also the region as a whole,” she said.

Earlier, the three Japanese lawmakers visited the Wallace Air Station, where Japan delivered its first radar system to the Philippines.

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