MANILA – Japan aims to send a P3-C Orion patrol aircraft to the Philippines for a search-and-rescue exercise this month in a further sign of deepening security ties as Japan looks to extend its military presence to the South China Sea.
Tension in the South China Sea has been rising, particularly since China began land reclamation projects on disputed reefs, extending its influence in a region through which about $5 trillion of trade passes annually, much of it to and from Japan.
The United States wants its Asian allies to be more assertive against what it sees as Chinese expansionism.
The proposed two-day exercise from June 24 near the Philippine capital, Manila, comes after Philippine President Benigno Aquino III visited Japan last week for talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“We will announce the details such as the schedule and assets we will send as soon as the plan is fixed,” Tomohisa Takei, chief of staff for the Maritime Self-Defense Force, told media in Tokyo on Tuesday.
The joint maneuvers would be the second this year, after a one-day exercise in the flash-point South China Sea last month, Philippine Navy spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo said.
He would not say where the new exercises would be held or which ships would take part.
On May 12, two Japanese destroyers and one of the Philippines’ newest warships held maneuvers less than 300 km (165 miles) from the Philippine-claimed Scarborough Shoal, which is now under Chinese control.
Japan is considering joint maritime air patrols in the South China Sea with the United States as a counterweight to China’s growing power, sources said in April.
Close U.S. allies Japan and the Philippines are negotiating a visiting forces agreement that, if concluded, would allow Japanese military aircraft, such as the Lockheed Martin P3-C, to use bases in the Philippines for refueling.
Philippine navy spokesman Edgard Arevalo said the Philippine Navy and the Maritime Self Defense Force were exploring areas of training and cooperation including humanitarian assistance and disaster response.
Aquino and Abe also agreed to discuss transfers of defense technology and equipment that could help the Philippine’s beef up patrols in areas of the South China Sea also claimed by China. With a much bigger navy, China is better able to push its claims.
Japan and the Philippines signed an agreement to forge closer defense ties in January and conducted their first joint naval drill in Philippine waters in May.