TCSS Security Commentaries #025

With the inaugural “2+2” meeting, Japan and the Philippines took a step forward to foster greater security cooperation and demonstrate Japan’s willingness to commit to a more vital role in the region.

Angelo Brian T. Castro, Taiwan Center for Security Studies

(Source: Ministry of Defense, Japan)

In April, the Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs Hayashi Yoshimasa and Minister of Defense Kishi Nobuo met their Filipino counterparts, Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr., and Secretary of Defense Delfin N. Lorenzana, with a firm resolve to improve the cooperation and security in the East and Southeast Asian region. Both Japan and the Philippines are staunch allies of the United States. Also, China is considered a threat by Japan and the Philippines due to Beijing’s persisting territorial disputes and militarization activities in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. The Japanese and Filipino officials have reaffirmed their commitment to a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” (FOIP) and “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP).” AOIP shares fundamental principles that Japan believes in and is based on the “Joint Statement of the 23rd ASEAN-Japan Summit on Cooperation on ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific,” adopted in 2020.

Both countries deemed that a change in the status quo was unacceptable. Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), together with maritime law enforcement based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), is still the critical element in retaining peace and prosperity in the region. It is important to remember that the Philippines took the diplomatic route to resolve the South China / West Philippine Sea issue, but to no avail; it could not enforce the ruling despite being in its favor. The officials also see the importance of the Sulu-Celebes Seas, the Bangsamoro region of the Philippines, and its surrounding areas to enhance cooperation in different fields continuously. The Philippines have also called to restore the status quo in Myanmar and reaffirmed its commitment to the Five-Point Consensus. Both countries have also raised the passivity of Cambodia as the ASEAN Chair.

Japan also eyes the 50th year of ASEAN-Japan Friendship and Cooperation in 2023 to serve as an avenue to strengthen its commitment and cooperation with the ASEAN country members. Lately, Japan has become active in regional security as the ramification of the Russian invasion of Ukraine became a reality, to the disbelief of many people. Several countries with territorial disputes have witnessed limited and ambiguous support from the international community to the embattled country. Even the United Nations could not prevent Russia from launching a large-scale military action against Ukraine. Russia has veto power over the resolution, and China abstains from the matter. The latter’s abstention was considered a show of support by China to Russia’s invasion as the country also had yet to fulfill its goal of Taiwan’s reunification with the mainland. As the skepticism grew about over-relying on the United States or other major countries for support in conflict times, Japan and the Philippines took a step forward to foster greater security cooperation and demonstrate Japan’s willingness to commit to a more vital role in the region.

Further cooperation with the Japanese government should be a welcome development for the Filipino people. Based on a 2019 poll, the Filipinos trust the Japanese government second to the United States while showing great distrust for the Chinese and Russian governments. Therefore, we can expect Japan to utilize the favorable response of the Philippine government and its people for broader cooperation. The East Asian country attempts to become more proactive in its diplomatic and security activities in the South East Asian region to promote the status quo in the area, which is mutually beneficial among the countries involved.