Japan, Philippines pledge closer security ties

Japan, Philippines pledge closer security ties

TOKYO Reuters -- Japan pledged to forge closer security ties with the Philippines on Thursday after the two U.S. allies pledged to strengthen joint exercises with the Philippines at a time of heightened tensions with China.

A deal to allow the Philippine military and Japan's Self-Defense Foces to collaborate during disaster relief operations is seen by the maritime nations as a step toward a broader pact that could allow both countries to deploy forces on each other's soil.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in his opening remarks at a meeting with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.Marcos Jr. in Tokyo. Japan attaches great importance to cooperation with the Philippines in this year of complex international situations.

Kishida later said the two had agreed to establish a framework that would strengthen and smooth the process of holding joint exercises. As recently as October, Japan held joint exercises with the United States and the Philippines.

Taiwan, which is located between Japan and the Philippines, has become a focal point of the intensification of Chinese military activity that Tokyo and Washington worry could escalate into war as Beijing attempts to capture what it views as a rogue province.

Marcos, who took office in July, last week signed an agreement that gives the United States greater access to its military bases, on his first visit to Japan since taking office in July.

The disaster relief deal with Tokyo is seen as a possible precursor to establishing an agreement that would allow the SDF to deploy to the Philippines more easily.

Tokyo has such pacts with Australia and Britain and also hosts the largest concentration of U.S. forces abroad.

An SDF presence in the Philippines could help Manila counter Chinese influence in the South China Sea, much of which Beijing claims, including the territory that Manila considers its own.

After our meeting, I can confidently state that our strategic partnership is stronger than ever as we navigate the rough waters that surround our region, Marcos said, adding he had agreed to cooperate more closely with Japan on areas such as defense cooperation and maritime security.