Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. arrived in Japan on Wednesday to hold talks with his Japanese counterpart on deepening security ties amid concerns over China’s increasing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific.
Marcos will meet with Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and other top officials during his five-day visit to Japan to enhance “regional cooperation in a broad range of engagements,” his office said in a statement.
“My bilateral visit to Japan is essential and is part of a larger foreign policy agenda to forge closer political ties, stronger defense, and security cooperation, as well as lasting economic partnerships with major countries in the region amid a challenging global environment,” he said.
Marcos is expected to sign seven key agreements with Japan, which aim to boost cooperation in agriculture, renewable energy, digital transformation, defense, and infrastructure between the two nations.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said the meeting with Japan will be “consequential” as Marcos seeks to “maximize the full potential of the Philippines-Japan strategic partnership in all its aspects.”
“Japan is the first country with which the Philippines has forged a strategic partnership and is only one of two strategic partners of the Philippines, the other one being Vietnam,” it said in a statement.
This marks Marcos’s first visit to Japan since taking office in June last year, which came just a week after his meeting with U.S. defense secretary Lloyd Austin in Manila on Feb. 2.
During his meeting with Austin, Marcos expressed his hopes to maintain ties with Washington, citing the United States’ role as a “Pacific power,” and granted the United States greater access to the Philippine military bases.
“More specifically here, the Asia-Pacific region has become a terribly complicated situation,” Marcos said. “It is something we can only navigate with the help of our partners and our allies.”
The United States pledged to modernize the Philippine military and boost interoperability between their forces. The Philippines also granted the United States four new military bases under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement in addition to five existing bases.
Austin said these “efforts are especially important as the People’s Republic of China continues to advance its illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea”—the name that Manila uses for the South China Sea.
The Philippines and Japan have sought to bolster defense cooperation as Beijing expanded its military foothold in the Asia–Pacific region.
Marcos said on Jan. 16 that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is facing “strong pressure” from major powers to choose sides amid geopolitical rivalry in the Indo–Pacific region.
“The forces of us going back to that Cold War type of scenario, where you have to choose one side or the other, are strong,” Marcos told reporters in Switzerland, according to the state-run Philippine News Agency.
In December 2022, the Philippines and Japan conducted unit-to-unit exchanges to “expedite cooperation, inter-cooperation, and mutual understanding” between their forces.
This made the Philippines the third nation to which Japan has dispatched fighter jets, after the United States and Australia, according to Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force.
Consuelo Castillo, the Philippine Air Force’s spokesperson, said the exchanges involve aircraft maintenance, medical affairs, base defense, and field meteorology, according to a state-run news agency.
In April 2022, the two nations agreed to increase defense relations through “capability building, reciprocal port calls/ship visits, transfer of more defense equipment and technology, and continuous cooperation on previously-transferred defense equipment.”
In a joint statement, both nations “strongly opposed” actions that would exacerbate tensions in the East and South China Seas, underscoring the need for a rules-based approach to resolving competing claims in maritime areas within the framework of international law.
They called for the implementation of a code of conduct consistent with the Law of the Sea without jeopardizing the legitimate rights of all stakeholders in the disputed sea, according to the statement.
Beijing claims much of the South China Sea as its own under its so-called “nine-dash line.” The Hague Tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines in 2016. Still, it has had little to no impact on Beijing’s behavior, with it repeatedly intruding into Manila’s territorial zones.
The Philippines sought to increase its military presence in the South China Sea to deter the Chinese from encroaching on its territories. The Southeast Asian nation is also concerned about Beijing’s aggression against Taiwan, given its proximity to the self-ruled island.
Japan, on the other hand, is concerned about its own vulnerability as the Chinese Communist Party expands its military presence near Taiwan and the East China Sea, where the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands are located. Japan released its National Security Strategy in December, which refers to China as its “greatest challenge.”