Defense pact paves way for Philippines-Japan ‘Balikatan’

Michael Punongbayan – The Philippine Star 

July 6, 2024 | 12:00am

“The RAA is very important because it will allow Japanese forces, Japanese troops to come into our country to conduct trainings together with us. It will also allow our troops to come to Japan to train with them,” Brawner said.

MANILA, Philippines —  The armed forces of the Philippines and Japan may hold large joint training exercises in the country – comparable to the annual Balikatan exercises with the United States – once Manila and Tokyo sign a reciprocal access agreement (RAA).

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said it is looking forward to the signing of the deal, expected during next week’s 2nd Philippines-Japan Foreign and Defense  Ministerial Meeting (“2+2”) in Manila.

“We are hoping that during that meeting, the RAA or the reciprocal access agreement will be signed,” AFP chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said at a press briefing on Thursday at Camp Aguinaldo following a mid-year command conference with President Marcos.

“The RAA is very important because it will allow Japanese forces, Japanese troops to come into our country to conduct trainings together with us. It will also allow our troops to come to Japan to train with them,” Brawner said.

Without such an agreement, Brawner said the AFP can only engage in subject matter exchanges with its Japanese counterparts on humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) operations.

“But with the RAA, it will allow us to conduct more than just HADR operations but actual military operations,” he pointed out. He clarified, however, that the AFP is not privy to negotiations for an RAA but has provided relevant parties with inputs.

AFP spokesperson Col. Francel Margareth Padilla also said an RAA would allow for joint military exercises with Japan.

“So whatever we’re doing in Salaknib and Balikatan, these can be replicated,” she told reporters, noting that this year’s Balikatan exercises involved not just the US, but the armed forces of Australia and France as well, making the event one of the biggest.

“We’re encouraging more like-minded nations to join us in these exercises because with this, we are trying to see how we integrate and inter-operate with one another in any scenario,” she said. “So if Japan will have an active participation other than just being an observer, then we welcome that.”

Philippine Navy spokesman for West Philippine Sea (WPS) Rear Admiral Roy Vincent Trinidad earlier said an RAA with Japan would also be an acknowledgment that “the international community now understands a broad united front has to be put in place in order to check any attempts to disrupt the rules-based international order.”

RAA signing seen

Japanese Ambassador Endo Kazuya said discussions on the RAA are almost complete and the prospect of the deal getting signed is bright.

“I’m pleased to see that our Reciprocal Access Agreement negotiation is now close to conclusion,” he said in a speech on Thursday at the celebration of the 70th anniversary of Japan Self Defense Force.

“Once concluded, the RAA will facilitate mutual visits between our forces to further promote our security cooperation,” he added.

He later told reporters Japan remains seriously concerned about China’s “repeated acts that obstruct freedom of navigation and increased tension in the region, including the recent dangerous behavior that resulted in danger, in damage to the Philippine vessels and to the injuries to Filipinos on board.”

He also said Tokyo “is concerned by unlawful maritime claims and steadfastly opposes the dangerous and coercive use of coast guard and maritime militia vessels in the South China Sea.”

“Japan’s position has been very consistent on this matter. The issues surrounding the South China Sea are matters of legitimate concern of the international community that directly affect regional peace and stability,” Endo stressed.

“It is only natural for Japan to express serious concern if and when China’s behavior in the South China Sea is dangerous and aggressive,” he explained.

At the same event, National Security Adviser Eduardo Año thanked the Japanese military for its continuing support in the face of China’s aggression.

“On behalf of a grateful Filipino nation, I thank the JSDF for extending its service to the Philippines by offering support and assistance in terms of promoting and maintaining peace and stability in our jurisdictions and the region, bolstering our defense posture and upgrading of equipment, expanding aids in humanitarian assistance and disaster response, among other important pursuits,” Año said.

“We are equally appreciative of your continued calls and firm stance for nations to respect, abide by and act based on international laws and rules-based international orders,” he added.

Año, a former AFP chief, said the Philippines hopes to continue working hand in hand with Japan on various aspects, including creating a conducive environment for peaceful dialogue and consultations as well as boosting the AFP’s capability and readiness to protect the country’s rights and interests.

He expressed hope the Philippines and Japan would continue “working closely with the international community to ensure that the region remains a zone of peace, freedom and cooperation.”

“As we celebrate this achievement, we gladly look forward to the future of our defense relations and national security – one that is committed to sustaining a stable and peaceful region amid growing global pressure,” he said.

“Rest assured, the Philippines’ commitment remains: that we will work to expand and forge stronger partnerships with Japan to continually give rise to a region living and thriving in peace and prosperity,” he maintained.


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