Japan’s prime minister visited a Philippine patrol ship in a symbolic show of support as Tokyo strengthens its regional alliances to counter China’s assertiveness in maritime disputes with its neighbors.
“I sincerely hope that this will lead to regional peace and prosperity as well as a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Keshida told senior Philippine government and Philippine Coast Guard officials aboard the Magbanua, l one of the two largest patrol vessels in Manila’s underfunded coast guard. .
Japan has supplied a dozen patrol vessels to the Philippines in recent years, including the 97-meter-long Magbanua. The Manila Coast Guard uses these vessels extensively for sovereignty patrols and to transport supplies and rotating naval personnel to nine Philippine-occupied islands, islets and reefs in the strategic South China Sea.
The Philippines has strongly protested the Chinese coast guard’s use of blinding laser lights and water cannons in separate incidents this year, as well as its blockade that led to two minor collisions last month near the second controversial Thomas Reef.
In August, as the Magbanua attempted to approach the shoal, surrounded for years by Chinese ships, its crew saw a Chinese coast guard vessel maneuvering into a blocking position with its 70 mm armament exposed, according to the Philippine Coast Guard.
During their talks Friday in Manila, Kishida and Marcos agreed to begin negotiations on a key defense pact called the Reciprocal Access Agreement that would allow their troops to enter each other’s territory for joint military exercises.
The Japanese prime minister also announced that coastal surveillance radars would be provided to the Philippine Navy under a new security grant program aimed at strengthening the militaries of friendly countries.
Japan has long had a territorial dispute with China over islands in the East China Sea.
In the first-ever speech by a Japanese prime minister to a joint session of the Philippine Congress on Saturday, Kishida pledged to continue helping build the capabilities of the Philippine military and maritime agencies.