As confrontations between the Philippines and China become more frequent in the disputed South China Sea, there is indication that the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration is looking to sign the reciprocal access agreement with Japan as soon as next year.
A Filipino National Security Council (NSC) official said his country intends to sign the Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) with Japan, some media reports stated on December 18. There has been no word on the schedule of the agreement by the Marcos government yet.
NSC Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya said both Manila and Tokyo wish to sign the agreement as soon as possible since it will significantly increase their marine cooperation.
He noted that once the agreement is signed, the RAA “will facilitate the procedures and set guidelines when Philippine forces visit Japan for training and joint exercises, and vice versa.”
Both countries agreed to negotiate a reciprocal access agreement (RAA) earlier this year, amid growing regional tensions, at the behest of their common adversary, China.
In early November, the defense secretary for the Philippines, Gilberto Teodoro, said Manila hopes to sign the agreement with Japan “as soon as possible” on sharing military forces on each other’s territory. Teodoro noted that any deal would need to be ratified by Japan’s and the Philippines’ legislatures.
“We look forward to this reciprocal access agreement between both our countries given the commitment of the Japanese government and the Philippine government to preserve the rules-based international order and international law,” Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro told a press briefing.
If the reports are anything to go by, a team from the Department of National Defense, Department of Foreign Affairs, and Department of Justice representing the Philippines started formal discussions for the RAA in Tokyo in late November.
The development comes at a time when Manila has come under several attacks by Beijing near the Second Thomas Shoal, an atoll that remains disputed between the two countries.
A reef in the contentious South China Sea, the Second Thomas Shoal is a resource-rich waterway that serves as a central shipping channel and is located about 190 kilometers off the western coast of Palawan Island. China claims the shoal as its territory, as part of the South China Sea.
Manila fears China could invade to assert its claim over the shoal. The Philippines has a warship called ‘Sierra Madre’ run aground, which functions as its military outpost on the territory.
In recent months, the Philippines Coast Guard (PCG) ships carrying out reinforcement missions for the military vessel have been attacked by the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) ships, which often train water cannons on them.
The situation reached a breaking point in late October when a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) craft and a military-run supply boat were attacked by a Chinese Coast Guard ship and an escorting vessel off a shoal that both parties claimed.
Along with these confrontations that could escalate into a conflict, Beijing continues to peddle a narrative that Manila is provoking it.
Amid rising tensions, Manila has found support from allies like the United States. The US has categorically asserted its ironclad commitment to the Southeast Asian country and pledged to defend it against potential Chinese aggression.
Statement of the National Task Force-West Philippine Sea
December 10, 2023, Manila, Philippines
Today, 10 December 2023, China Coast Guard (CCG) and Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) vessels harassed, blocked, and executed dangerous maneuvers on Philippine civilian supply vessels,… pic.twitter.com/NF66BqVPUM
— Jay Tarriela (@jaytaryela) December 10, 2023
However, the United States is far away, and Japan is closer, which makes forging a more profound friendship with Tokyo a natural choice.
Moreover, China has emerged as a common adversary for both Manila and Tokyo, with the latter feeling the heat of Beijing’s aggression as it intimidates the self-ruled Taiwan.
Due to its geographical proximity to Taiwan, any attempt by China to occupy the island state would threaten Japan’s security.
Japan and the Philippines have been gradually strengthening their partnership. As previously reported by EurAsian Times, Japan seeks to allocate its first grant for security cooperation to the Philippines under a new program aimed at improving the defensive capacities of regional allies.
The new type of aid will be given to militaries of nations that Tokyo regards as friendly and whose cooperation is essential for Japan’s security, besides delivering equipment that supports law-based security and peace.
Japan is not the only country that the Marcos administration is courting to forget defense ties and improve its defense posture against an increasingly belligerent China that threatens its claims over the disputed territories.
Marcos Is Seeking More Defense Partners
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr stated that the Philippines would expand its military accords with other countries, providing cooperative training as the Southeast Asian nation looks to strengthen its defense ties with the United States and Japan.
According to a statement released on December 17 by his communications office, Marcos Jnr., who is in Tokyo for the Asean-Japan Commemorative Summit, stated that it was “not sufficient” for simply the Philippines and Japan to engage in “the so-called interoperability” of their military forces. He said, “We really must get more of this kind of arrangements in place.”
Marcos Jr. and Kishida decided at their meeting on December 17 to keep working together to expedite the Reciprocal Access Agreement discussions and strengthen ties between the coastguards of the two nations.
This month, the Philippines also consented to start negotiations with France for a defense deal permitting troop visits. It conducted the most extensive iteration of its signature military drill with the US earlier in 2023—the largest one in over three decades.
In late November, reports indicated that the Philippines was also exploring the idea of conducting joint patrols with other like-minded friendly countries in the South China Sea, one week after it completed a similar patrol mission with Australia and the United States.
“The South China Sea situation is the most complex geopolitical challenge that the world faces,” the statement quoted Marcos Jr. as saying in an interview with the Japanese media one day before the meeting. “Tensions have increased rather than diminished.”
The Philippines has had difficulty beginning to explore the South China Sea for energy resources because of the pressure in relations with China.
Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Toowoomba and a P-8A maritime patrol aircraft are participating.
Philippine Navy’s BRP Gregorio del Pilar & BRP Davao del Sur & 5 PH Air… pic.twitter.com/heazuJS6I1
— Indo-Pacific News – Geo-Politics & Defense News (@IndoPac_Info) November 25, 2023
According to the statement, the nation has been in talks for energy exploration for over three years, but very little progress has been accomplished. “We are still at a deadlock right now,” Marcos Jr. stated. He declared, “We must try and resolve to see what role any countries can play.”
Manila has frequently asserted that it will require additional support from its allies, given the significant disparity between its Navy and Coast Guard size and capabilities compared to its Chinese counterparts.
Analysts have predicted that Manila may take Washington’s help to cobble up a regional alliance of countries at odds with Beijing. However, the Marcos administration has yet to make such an appeal and could be seen seeking bilateral cooperation agreements.