Japan will supply the Philippines with defense equipment after leaders from the two nations signed an agreement Monday as tensions remain high in the disputed South China Sea region, the Associated Press reported.
“Let me stress that what underpins this agreement is not only our desire to enhance our respective defense capabilities but also to contribute to regional peace and stability,” Filipino Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said, adding the agreement will also include technology supplies and joint development projects. The agreement is the first of its kind for Japan in the region.
Both countries stayed clear of directly mentioning aggressive Chinese moves, including what appears to be the installation of advanced radars on the Spratly Islands, Reuters reported. Ahead of the agreement signing, Gazmin said, “It’s not directed against any country.”
China has said it will defend its sovereignty in the South China Sea; General Wang Jiaocheng of the newly created Southern Command Theater has told Chinese media he will focus on protecting the country's regional interests.
“The military will be capable of dealing with any security threat. No country will be allowed to use any excuse or action to threaten China’s sovereignty and safety,” Wang said, according to a translation from the South China Morning Post.
Japan and the Philippines will hold additional talks to decide what defense equipment will be supplied, with reports saying Tokyo has offered surveillance aircraft as well as both new and used equipment. The Philippines has looked to both Japan and the U.S. as it works to modernize its military amid mounting uncertainty in the region it calls the West Philippine Sea. Japan announced in January that it would increase its air patrols around Vietnam and the Philippines.
The South China Sea is an economically important maritime trade area, with Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam all laying claims to areas. Approximately $5 trillion worth of trade moves through the region every year.