Two key American allies in the Indo-Pacific region are launching their first joint air force exercises as the United States seeks to assemble a coalition to counter threats from China.
“As a strategic partner and friend of the Philippines, we hope that our bilateral training will contribute to further strengthen the cooperation between our two Air Forces,” Japan Air Self-Defense Force Maj. Mizuno Masaki said Thursday in a statement released by the Japanese Embassy in Manila.
Japan is emerging as an entrepreneurial power in a burgeoning “alliance of democracies” that U.S. officials hope will help deter a war with China. The four-day exercise will focus on “humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” but the unprecedented drills reflect Tokyo’s alarm about Beijing’s growing military power and aggression in territorial disputes with neighbors — not only Japan but also with the Philippines, where President Rodrigo Duterte has tried to develop a warm relationship with Beijing at the expense of a historic mutual defense treaty with the U.S.
“Japan and the Philippines are both natural disaster-prone countries and there are so much we can share on disaster relief operations for saving lives and alleviating the suffering of people in need,” Mizuno said. “We aim for achieving a higher level of coordination and operative capabilities on HA/DR through our training exercises with the PAF.”
The announcement was made on the same day that American officials in Manila kicked off commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Treaty of Manila, which was signed on July 4, 1946, and established diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the Philippines.
"Through wars, natural disasters, pandemics, and whatever else may come our way, the U.S.-Philippine relationship is ... thriving at 75,” John Law, the top U.S. diplomat at the embassy in Manila, said Thursday.
The Philippines figure as one of the most important U.S. allies in the region, given its location in relation to strategic waterways, but Duterte’s fear of China and aversion to American human rights positions have impeded strategists in both countries who want to improve security cooperation to deter China.
In the meantime, China has claimed sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, home to some of the most heavily trafficked shipping lanes in the world, without regard for the claims of the Philippines and other states in the region. Chinese People’s Liberation Army forces also have deployed surface-to-air missiles and anti-ship missiles to artificial islands, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“This is a big, big threat — not just for us in Asian people, but also the concern of even the American citizens or the European countries,” Japanese Deputy Defense Minister Yasuhide Nakayama told the Hudson Institute this week while discussing China’s militarization of artificial islands in the South China Sea. “So that’s why all the European countries, and also, of course, the United States, the armed forces [are] now coming forward and together exercising in the Asia. And so those kind of exercise, I think, it’s we can show the deterrence towards the country who is doing what I told you — those kind of very dangerous activities.”
The Japanese Embassy alluded to these controversies at the announcement of the impending air force exercises.
“Japan reiterates the importance of maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) which is inclusive and based on the rule of law, democratic values, territorial integrity, transparency, and peaceful resolution of disputes, and underscores its intention to work together with the Philippines and other partner countries through a wide range of activities and cooperation for peace, stability, and prosperity in our regions and beyond,” the embassy announcement said.
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Original Author: Joel Gehrke