Japan has taken another step to bolster its network of security partners by launching negotiations with the Philippines on a visiting forces agreement and making the Southeast Asian country the first recipient of its new military aid program.

"Under the increasingly severe and complex international situation, we are deepening cooperation in the area of security," Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Friday during a joint news conference in Manila alongside Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

The move by the two “semi-allies” comes amid growing concerns by both over China’s territorial ambitions.