• Kyodo

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Japan and the Philippines are set to clinch a deal next month on the provision of Maritime Self-Defense Force TC-90 training aircraft to the Southeast Asian country, officials of the two countries said Friday.

Defense Minister Gen Nakatani and Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin are likely to reach a basic agreement on the matter in telephone talks, probably Monday, the officials said.

If the planned lease of the MSDF aircraft to the Philippines is realized, it will become the first provision of Self-Defense Forces aircraft to a foreign country.

By assisting the maritime defense capability of the Philippines with the lease, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe aims to put pressure on China, which has pressed forward with a rapid and massive island-building strategy to assert its sovereignty in the South China Sea.

China has been embroiled in territorial disputes with some Southeast Asian countries in the area, including the Philippines and Vietnam.

After the basic accord, Tokyo and Manila hope to accelerate talks toward an early formal agreement on the lease, the officials said, adding the two governments decided to seal a deal ahead of the Philippines presidential election on May 9.

According to the officials, Japan plans to lease up to five TC-90 training aircraft to the Philippines.

Since Japan cannot grant such aircraft to a foreign country under current law, the two countries are considering inking a lease contract under which Manila’s payment will be reduced, the officials said.

In the face of tensions with China over the territorial row in the South China Sea, the Philippines has sought provision of defense equipment from Tokyo.

The TC-90 is capable of flying about 1,900 km, roughly double the flight range of the Philippine Navy’s aircraft. The provision of MSDF aircraft would therefore strengthen the Philippines’ maritime surveillance capability.

Nakatani had planned to visit the Philippines to reach an agreement on the lease of planes in late April but gave up on the trip to address rescue and reconstruction efforts following the recent powerful earthquakes in Kyushu, the officials said.

On Feb. 29 the two countries signed an accord which allows Japan to supply the Philippines with defense equipment as well as technology transfer.

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