Japan-Philippines RAA 'encourages Tokyo's historical revisionism'
Published: Jul 08, 2024 10:09 PM
Illustration: Liu Xiangya/GT

Illustration: Liu Xiangya/GT

Japan, a former aggressor, is set to once again begin increasing its military presence in once-invaded Southeast Asian country Philippines during World War II, Chinese observers commented on the signing of a reciprocal access agreement (RAA) between Japan and the Philippines on Monday.

The Japan-Philippines RAA has opened the door for Japanese defense forces and equipment to enter the Philippines, potentially leading to a higher frequency and greater variety of joint military exercises in the South China Sea, warned Chinese experts who condemned the RAA as posing a greater threat and challenge to regional peace and stability, and a move that would encourage Japan's historical revisionism as well as dilute Southeast Asian countries' sensitivity towards Japanese aggression during WWII.

The Philippines and Japan boosted their defense ties and signed the RAA - which eases the entry of equipment and troops for combat training and disaster response - on Monday, citing rising tensions in the South China Sea, Reuters reported. 

The media outlet said the deal is the first of its kind to be signed by Japan in Asia. The RAA will take effect after being ratified by both countries' parliaments.

Both the Philippines and Japan, two of the US' closest Asian allies, have taken a strong line against China in the South China Sea. 

Under the Japan-Philippines RAA, there could be a higher frequency and greater variety of joint military exercises in the South China Sea, and the integration of military intelligence sharing and information systems interoperability between the two countries may also increase, Ding Duo, a deputy director of the Institute of Maritime Law and Policy at the China Institute for South China Sea Studies, told the Global Times on Monday.

Against the backdrop of the US prioritizing great power competition and the so-called Indo-Pacific Strategy, Japan, which is eager to regain its "normal state status," is attempting to increase overseas deployments and expand defense diplomacy through this agreement, gradually breaking through the spirit of the pacifist constitution and getting rid of its positioning in the post-war international order system. 

"Japan, which has a dark history in the South China Sea and Southeast Asia in the first half of the 20th century, interlinked with the Philippines and colluded with the US in creating a clique will only further disrupt the region," Ding warned.

The Asia-Pacific region does not need any military bloc, still less groupings that incite bloc confrontation or a new Cold War, Lin Jian, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said at a press briefing on Monday when commenting on the Japan-Philippines RAA. 

Any move that undermines regional peace and stability, and harms regional solidarity and cooperation will be met with vigilance and opposition from people in regional countries, Lin said. 

"Japan bears serious historical responsibilities for its aggression and colonial rule over the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries during WWII. Japan needs to reflect on that part of history and act prudently in fields related to military and security," Lin stated.

According to Reuters, Japan, which last year announced its biggest military build-up since WWII in a step away from its post-war pacifism, does not have any claims to the South China Sea, but has a separate maritime dispute with China in the East China Sea, where they have repeatedly faced off.

The media outlet noted that the Philippines has a Visiting Forces Agreement with the US and Australia. Tokyo, which hosts the biggest concentration of US forces abroad, has similar RAA deals with Australia and the UK, and is currently negotiating another with France. 

For Japan, it obviously hopes that defense cooperation with the Philippines can be further replicated in ASEAN and even other countries in Asia-Pacific as it can not only export Japan's defense capabilities and expand influence in the region but also dilutes the sensitivity of Japan's aggression history toward the Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines, according to Da Zhigang, director of the Institute of Northeast Asian Studies at the Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences.

Zhang Junshe, a Chinese military expert, told the Global Times that Japan is eager to officially participate in the US-Philippines "shoulder-to-shoulder" exercises, not only to demonstrate support and cooperation to the US "Indo-Pacific Strategy," but also to increase Japan's presence in the South China Sea region and increase its military intervention in the area.

For the Philippines, internationalizing the South China Sea disputes with China, and boosting cooperation with the US and Japan, can help it increase its leverage in the South China Sea issue and mobilize public opinion, as it attempts to increase its bargaining power in the game involving South China Sea islands and reefs, Da told the Global Times on Monday.

Therefore, both Japan and the Philippines are actively assisting the US in building the Asian version of a mini-NATO, the expert warned.

"The US has always used the South China Sea issue as a means to contain China, using the Philippines as a pawn, encouraging the Philippines to confront China on the front line. Given the dispute between China and Japan over the Diaoyu Islands, Japan has continuously supported and incited the Philippines to provoke trouble in the South China Sea," Zhang said. 

"In other words, the US wants Japan to be its strategic pawn, and Japan wants the Philippines to be its cannon fodder," Zhang remarked.