The Philippines and Japan agreed to begin talks to allow Japanese military aircraft and naval vessels to use Filipino bases to refill fuel and pick up supplies, in an effort to extend the Philippines' reach into the disputed waters of the South China Sea, media reports said Friday, citing Filipino President Benigno Aquino. The deal, which will be part of the Visiting Forces Agreement, would allow Japan to use the bases on a rotational basis.
The news follows previous reports about Japan's plans to conduct joint air patrols with the United States in the South China Sea in retaliation to China’s increasing assertion in the region. China has allegedly built airstrips and man-made islands in the disputed territories.
In the joint declaration signed on Thursday, between Aquino and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the two countries agreed to begin "negotiations to conclude an agreement on the transfer of defense equipment and technology," ABS-CBN News, a Filipino news network reported.
Aquino reportedly said it will be premature to discuss the details of the defense equipment to be transferred to Philippines. But added that Japan has promised to support the capacity building of the Philippines Coast Guard.
"We have a Visiting Forces Agreement with America and with Australia, but we don't have the same with Japan. That has, first, to be worked out before we can talk about training exercises in the Philippines, for instance, especially for self-defense forces," Aquino said, according to ABS-CBN News, adding: "The challenges are evolving. The requirements are increasing, and perhaps there is a need to revisit the same to make it a better instrument, whereby both countries' interests are served for instance."
The decision was reached during Aquino's four-day visit to Japan which ends Friday, as Manila tries to win allies to counter China's aggressive moves in the South China Sea region. About $5 trillion of sea-borne trade passes annually through the region, of which most of the route falls to and from Japan, Reuters reported.