TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. are expected to sign key agreements to boost their defense ties Thursday as Asia sees tensions around China’s growing influence.
Marcos is visiting Japan soon after he and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin reached agreements on allowing the United States greater access to Philippine military bases to keep in check China’s territorial ambitions.
A defense arrangement that's one of the most crucial deals to be signed when Marcos and Kishida meet later Thursday would allow Japanese troops to join more training exercises and respond to natural disasters in the Philippines.
It could lead to similar agreements with other Southeast Asian nations.
The two island nations last year held their first “2+2" security talks between their defense and foreign ministers, agreeing to strengthen their defense ties.
Kishida’s government in December adopted key security and defense upgrades, including a counterstrike capability that breaks from Japan’s self-defense-only postwar principle, while also doubling its defense spending in five years.
Japan under the new strategy will also use its development assistance to support poorer nations as they strengthen their maritime safety and other security capabilities. It’s meant to counter China’s growing regional influence.
On Thursday, Kishida is expected to announce economic assistance to improve Philippine's infrastructure, disaster response and maritime safety capabilities.
The new agreement expected to be signed with the Philippines allows Japan to deploy its forces for humanitarian missions and disaster responses in the Philippines, an arrangement Japan hopes to upgrade to include defense cooperation in the future, experts say.
“When you think about the stability in the region and sea lanes and deterrence to China’s maritime assertiveness, deepening cooperation with the Philippines is crucial for the security of Japan and the United States,” said Heigo Sato, a Takushoku University professor and expert on defense and security. “Having access to bases in the Philippines would expand strategic options for Japan-U.S. alliance” in case of a Taiwan emergency.
Japan has been expanding its military cooperation in recent years beyond its only ally, the United States, and forged close ties with Australia and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region and Europe.
Japan signed a Reciprocal Access Agreement, which removes obstacles to holding joint military exercises in either country, with Australia a year ago, and also with Britain last month.
“My bilateral visit to Japan is essential,” Marcos told a news conference Wednesday in Manila before heading to Japan which he described as “like-minded and future-oriented like us in many ways and most reliable in time of crisis and of prosperity.”
“It is part of a larger foreign policy agenda to forge closer political ties, stronger defense and security cooperation, as well as lasting economic partnerships with major countries in the region amid a challenging global environment.”
He said key agendas during his talks with Kishida would include defense and security, as well as agriculture, renewable energy, digital transformation and infrastructure development.
Marcos was to meet Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako ahead of his talks with Kishida. He will also join talks with trade and business officials and leaders from the two sides before returning home on Sunday.