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The Philippines and Japan Sign A Comprehensive Access Agreement To Allow For Joint Military Training

John Conrod
John Conrod
John is a college senior majoring in International Relations with a minor in Mandarin Chinese. He is an analyst specializing on current events in the Indo-Pacific region.

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On July 8th, the Philippines and Japan signed a Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA), allowing both countries to access one another’s territory for joint military exercises. The RAA lays the legal foundation for both military forces to access each other’s bases and sites. Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro and Japan’s Foreign Minister Kamikawa Yoko signed the RAA, with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo, and Japan’s Defense Minister Kihira Minoru as witnesses.

The RAA will be submitted to the Philippine Congress for an official vote of ratification before the agreement can go into effect. Under Article VII, Section 21 of the Philippine Constitution, the RAA will only be valid with at least a two-thirds vote from all members of the Senate. The National Diet (Japan’s Parliament) must also approve the defense pact before any operations can begin. Under Chapter V, Article 73 of the Constitution of Japan, it shall obtain prior or, depending on circumstances, subsequent approval of the Diet before a treaty can be concluded.

The Reciprocal Access Agreement

The RAA is a defense pact and a comprehensive agreement that sets a legal framework for joint military exercises. It also gives the visiting country’s military force legal status to access bases and structures. The RAA includes a section for national disaster assistance and response between the Philippines and Japan. This action provides a deeper level of interoperability between the two nations.

Philippine Support and Opposition to the RAA

Senior ranking officials from various positions in the Philippine government offered many words of praise and support for enhancing military cooperation with Japan. National Security Council chief Eduardo Ano commended the signing of the RAA as a signal that the Philippines and Japan’s ties are “in its golden age.” Philippine Foreign Minister Enrique Manalo emphasized that “the RAA brings our defense partnership to an unprecedented height.” The Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief, General Romeo S. Brawner Jr., reiterated the importance of the RAA in enhancing the cooperation between the Philippine military and Japan’s Self-Defense Force (JSDF).

Even with the overwhelming support from both countries, some politicians in the Philippines, specifically members of the Nacionalista Party, expressed concern with the signing of the RAA. On July 8th, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations chairperson, Imee Marcos, a member of the Nacionalista Party, stated that her panel would “scrutinize every line and every word of that treaty [RAA] once the same is referred to us to make sure that it is aligned with the national interest of the country.” The RAA might face resistance from the Nacionalista Party when it is submitted to Congress for a vote.

The Importance of the RAA for Japan and the Philippines

The RAA is a monumental defensive agreement because it allows Japan to actively participate in joint military exercises. Before this defense pact with the Philippines, Article IX of the Constitution of Japan prevented the JSDF from engaging in joint military exercises. During the April 8th joint military cooperative activities with the United States, Australia, and the Philippines, Article IX restricted the JSDF to only participate as an observer. Since the RAA highlights the participation of live-fire drills, Japan may now participate in joint military drills on a more integrated level, thus removing the “red tape” that prevented the JSDF from participating in military drills in the past. Even though the RAA increases the operational flexibility for Japan to set a precedent in the South China Sea (SCS), it is still bound by Article IX not to expand its military capabilities beyond self-preservation.

The Bigger Picture

The signing of the RAA is a large stepping stone for the Philippines and Japan to protect their national interests in the SCS. Both countries “expressed serious concern over the escalatory actions by China” in the South China Sea. This defense pact will enhance both countries’ military presence within the region. China likely views this agreement as a coordinated challenge to its claims within the SCS.

Lin Jian at July 8th Press Conference (Photo: from Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China)

On July 8th, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Lin Jian, said, “The Asia-Pacific region does not need military blocs, let alone small groupings that instigate bloc confrontations or a new Cold War.” Since China does not want to seem intimidated by this agreement, China will likely respond to this agreement accordingly by each country. China will likely increase Coast Guard patrols, blockades, and interceptions of the Philippine Coast Guard and territories to show force. Since Japan is under different circumstances then the Philippines, China will likely utilize a different strategy. China may provoke Japan by sailing through the disputed Senkaku Island chain or choose to publicly criticize Japan and correlate the RAA to past military aggressions.

AUKUS Trilateral Meeting in San Diego on March 13, 2023. (Photo: The Korea Herald)

During the past decade, Japan has become a prominent state actor in the SCS, creating room for more opportunities. The RAA provides a unique opportunity for the United States to strengthen its bilateral alliances in the Indo-Pacific region. On April 10th, President Joe Biden stated that the United States is considering adding Japan under Pillar 2 of the AUKUS security pact. Pillar 2 of AUKUS focuses on bolstering national, regional, and global stability by enhancing the capabilities of industrial base and supply chains. If Japan joined Pillar 2 of AUKUS,  it would not only increase Japan’s defense capabilities, but also enhance its strong industrial and technological capacity. The RAA would then connect the Philippines to the AUKUS interests, further aligning the bilateral alliance with those nations.

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