- The two countries have separate island disputes with China
- Deal is first of its type for Japan and an ASEAN nation
Japan signed an agreement with the Philippines on Monday allowing the transfer of defense equipment, as the two nations seek to bolster military cooperation in the face of tensions with China.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Philippine President Benigno Aquino agreed at a summit meeting in November to negotiate a deal enabling the transfer of military equipment. Japan, which retains restrictions on arms exports under its pacifist constitution, must sign an accord with each country with whom it plans to cooperate on defense equipment.
The signing comes amid chilly relations between both nations and China. Abe hasn’t held a summit with President Xi Jinping since April 2015, while Japanese and Chinese government ships constantly tail one another around disputed islands close to Taiwan. The Philippines has taken China to international arbitration over a separate dispute in the South China Sea, with a ruling expected this year.
Japan has already begun building ten 40-meter coastguard vessels, regarded as civilian equipment, from official development assistance for the Philippines. Abe said last year he would "proactively consider" granting a request from the Philippines for larger patrol vessels.
The Japanese government expects the deal to contribute to its own national security, the nation’s foreign ministry said in an e-mailed statement. The agreement on defense equipment would be Japan’s first with a Southeast Asian government after similar arrangements with the U.S., the U.K., Australia and France.