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Japan has begun providing the Philippine military with lifesaving equipment adopted by the Self-Defense Forces, according to defense and foreign ministry officials, making it the first time that Tokyo has offered SDF equipment to a foreign military through official development assistance (ODA).

The supply of the equipment, which is also available for civilian use, is intended to strengthen defense ties with the Philippines, as the two countries are faced with China’s assertive claims in the East and South China seas.

The aid was made possible following Japan’s policy shift in its 2015 foreign aid charter, which enabled the government to use ODA to support foreign armed forces in noncombat areas such as disaster relief, infrastructure building and coast guard activities.

The closer defense ties between Tokyo and Manila come on top of a $100 million agreement in August last year that allows Mitsubishi Electric Corp. to export an air radar system to the Philippine armed forces.

The latest deal involves ODA totaling ¥120 million ($1.1 million) for the delivery of disaster-relief tools including jackhammers, sonars and engine cutters, among others, according to the Defense Ministry.

After the delivery is completed, Ground Self-Defense Force personnel will be sent to train units of the Philippine forces in their use, the ministry said.

Japan has been stepping up defense and security cooperation with the Philippines, one of the countries involved in territorial disputes with China, whose militarization of disputed outposts in the South China Sea is stoking concerns about peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

“We hope the provision of the aid will deepen bilateral relations with the strategically important regional partner,” a Foreign Ministry official said.

Between 2016 and 2018, the Philippines commissioned into service a total of 10 Japanese-made, 44-meter-long patrol vessels for its coast guard fleet through a Japanese foreign aid loan.

Two more such ships measuring 94 meters in length are set to be deployed in around 2022.

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