Japan and the Philippines Closer to Responding to China.

The two countries are preparing to increase cooperation in the military and strategic fields. Both countries share the same concerns about China and have unresolved territorial disputes with Beijing.

 For the first time since 1945, the Japanese Air Force participated in the military exercises of the Army of the Philippines which were held from November 27 to December 11. Tokyo Air Force General Izutsu Shunji stressed the importance of Japanese pilots participating in Philippine Air Force manoeuvres to enhance Japanese defence capabilities, while Connor Anthony Canlas, Commander-in-Chief Air Force Manila expressed his satisfaction, welcoming the two Japanese F-15s that took part in the war simulations for two weeks, emphasizing that Japan and the Philippines are now allies. An alliance in fact and certainly not accidental, considering how the Philippines were occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War, suffering the violence of the imperial troops who aimed to exploit the resources of the archipelago (primarily oil) to establish the Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.

A Japan Air Self Defense Force F-15. CC BY-SA 4.0/ Angelique Perez

Dreams of imperialist greatness vanished and were relegated to history books in favour of decidedly more modern needs: China and its expansion in the Pacific.However, Japan and the Philippines are not only united by alignment with Washington and a common sense of insecurity deriving from Chinese ambitions to oust the United States from the Pacific, but also by territorial disputes that both countries continue with against Beijing for sovereignty over small islets in the middle of the ocean. Japan is trying to resolve a diplomatic conflict with China over the Senkaku or Diaoyu Islands dossier, in whose waters fishing boats and coastguard vessels from their respective captaincies compete to guarantee access or to prevent it depending on the situation. There have been numerous attempts to resolve the issue, but Japan, which officially has sovereignty over the Islands, has always refused arbitration on the matter. What is certain is that China and Japan could be tempted by the immense reserves of raw materials potentially present under the oceanic crust of the islands rather than by their waters teeming with fish.

Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida

A different bone of contention is that of the Spratly Islands. A different case to that of the Senkaku/Diaoyu because in the case of the Spratly, there is a legal solution. In 2016, the International Court of Arbitration ruled in favour of the Philippines, dismantling Chinese territorial claims to the archipelago. Claims which, however, continue in the face of an unfavourable judgment (not binding in themselves as arbitration, but still an expression of current law): at the time, Xi Jinping declared that Chinese territorial claims would continue despite the sentence and the English-language press linked to the Communist Party of China went so far as to accuse the judges of having passed judgment on political grounds.
The war in Ukraine, with its (more or less exact) comparisons with the situation in Taiwan, prompted Japanese Prime Minister Kishida in recent months to visit various countries in South-East Asia.
In fact, Japan entered into military cooperation with Vietnam in 2021 (another country that perceives China as an uncomfortable neighbour) and with Thailand and Cambodia in 2022.

Senkaku Islands. CC BY-SA 3.0/ BehBeh

The main objective was to consolidate the Japanese role, but also and above all to make Beijing understand that Tokyo’s understanding with the various regional players in the Indo-Pacific is high.
Of all the local countries, however, the Philippines is, in all probability, the one with which Japan has the most understanding on the basis of the respective open fronts with Beijing.In the case of the Philippines, in particular, Beijing has shown that it is willing to override international law to continue on the path of revisionist and potentially aggressive foreign policy. However, it is difficult to say whether and to what extent the alliance of Indo-Pacific countries sharing diplomatic frictions with Beijing will intervene in the event of a direct confrontation with China, especially concerning the ‘hot’ issue of Taiwan. (Open Photo: The Izumo DDH-183, the first ship of the Izumo-class helicopter destroyer (22DDH) of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (Izumo DDH-183). CC BY 4.0/Kaijō Jieitai)

Enrico Breveglieri




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