The Self-Defense Forces will participate for the first time in joint annual military exercises involving U.S. and Filipino forces in the Philippines from the end of this month to April, Japanese and Filipino diplomatic sources said Saturday.

Australia and South Korea are also expected to take part for the first time in the exercises, called “Balikatan,” a Filipino word meaning “shoulder to shoulder.”

The multilateralization of the exercise apparently reflects a move by the United States to stand up to China’s recent provocations in the South China Sea.

Japan will take part in a simulated exercise that is premised on a major earthquake and that is to be performed as part of the same exercise. The decision to make it a disaster training exercise was taken to avoid excessively provoking China, but the exercise, which has until now been focused on antiterrorism training, now emphasizes multilateral cooperation with China in mind, the military diplomatic sources said.

Some member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations such as Vietnam and Singapore will also participate.

The Japanese Defense Ministry will send two field grade SDF officials and is deciding whether to participate as an observer. A defense official said that there is a desire to display a Japanese presence in Southeast Asia, with the Japan-U.S. alliance serving as a linchpin.

Balikatan has been held annually by U.S. and Filipino forces since 2000. According to the military diplomatic sources, the exercises assume that a major earthquake has taken place in Manila. A simulation will be performed in which the U.S. and Philippine forces and other countries’ militaries jointly assume the command of information collection and rescue activities as a command post exercise. It will last one week starting in April.

The main staging area of this year’s Balikatan will be off Palawan Island in the South China Sea, and nearby waters.

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