Philippines, Japan confirm closer security cooperation

Foreign and defense ministers of the Philippines and Japan have agreed to cooperate more closely to respond to situations in the East and South China seas. The talks come amid China's increasingly assertive behavior in those waters.

The Philippines' top diplomat, Enrique Manalo, and defense chief Gilberto Teodoro held a so-called two-plus-two meeting with their Japanese counterparts, Kamikawa Yoko and Kihara Minoru, on Monday in Manila.

They reaffirmed their opposition to attempts to forcibly make unilateral changes to the status quo in the East and South China seas -- an apparent reference to Beijing's behavior.

Japan expressed support for the Philippines' efforts to peacefully resolve conflicts in the South China Sea.

In a joint news conference, Philippine Foreign Secretary Manalo said, "We reaffirm our shared goal of ensuring the peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, promoting regional economic growth and addressing the increasing and complex challenges in the region and beyond."

Japanese Foreign Minister Kamikawa said, "We confirmed cooperation in maintaining and strengthening a free and open international order based on the rule of law, promoting defense cooperation and addressing regional and international issues."

Ahead of those talks, the countries signed a pact to facilitate drills between the Philippine military and Japan's Self-Defense Forces. The Reciprocal Access Agreement lays out rules on the handling of weapons and ammunition during joint training and jurisdiction over crimes and accidents.

The moves come amid a series of skirmishes between Manila and Beijing in the South China Sea. Last month, Philippine military and Chinese coast guard vessels collided at Second Thomas Shoal. The reef is effectively controlled by Manila and claimed by Beijing. In that incident, Chinese personnel boarded the Philippine boats and conducted a maritime inspection for the first time.

Jay Batongbacal, a professor at University of the Philippines' College of Law, says it's significant that the Philippines will be holding bilateral drills more often with Japan -- another archipelago. He pointed out that despite Japan's economic power and wealth of resources, its defense forces are relatively small, considering the burden of defending the countries' islands. "The Philippines could learn a lot from Japan, in how they do those things," he said.

Batongbacal said the countries' closer security cooperation will help them deal with maritime situations they both face. "I think that now, given that these are smaller countries facing a larger competitor, essentially China, joining together simply makes sense for them," he said.