Philippines will seal troops pact with Japan soon

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Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Philippines' President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. attend to a document exchange ceremony with Japan Coast Guard Commandant Shohei Ishii and Philippine Coast Guard Commandant Ronnie Gil Gavan at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo, Japan, December 17, 2023. Both countries leaders met on the sidelines of the Commemorative Summit for the 50th Year of ASEAN-Japan Friendship and Cooperation. FRANCK ROBICHON/Pool via REUTERS

President Ferdinand Marcos expressed on Tuesday the shared goal of himself and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida finalising the Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) between their respective countries. During a media briefing before his return home, the president emphasized the urgency, stating, “I think both the prime minister and I agree, ASAP. All of this, as soon as possible, yesterday, if not, sooner.”

The discussions revolve around a deal that has been under negotiation since last month, aiming to establish the legal framework for the armed forces of Manila and Tokyo to access each other’s territories. When asked whether China’s assertive actions in the West Philippine Sea influenced the decision to pursue an RAA, Marcos clarified that the initiative predates those events, saying, “It’s been in the works… the incidents in the past few couple of months have certainly sharpened our focus… But again, that’s one of the things that I’m looking forward to… a very big multiplier effect to our capabilities.”

Earlier this month, Philippine defence officials engaged in discussions with their Japanese counterparts to finalize the Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA), following the approval from President Marcos and Prime Minister Kishida in November to initiate negotiations.

During a joint statement with Marcos while on a working visit to Manila, Kishida acknowledged the benefits of the arrangement for the defence and military personnel of both countries, underlining its contribution to regional peace and security.

Once a draft of the RAA is complete, it will undergo ratification processes in both the Philippine Senate and Japan’s legislature. Envisioned to be akin to the Visiting Forces Agreement between Manila and Washington, the RAA would make the Philippines the first host of Japan among the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Japan already has similar agreements with the United Kingdom and Australia.

Regarding recent Chinese vessel activity at Second Thomas Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, President Marcos expressed caution, stating that Philippines is exerting all efforts but it needs to be very careful not to overreact or make mistakes that might be misinterpreted. He underscored an approach to avoid escalating tensions, noting that heightened tensions would not lead to a positive outcome.

National Security Council Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya countered the view that Chinese vessels at Second Thomas Shoal were in an “invasion” mode, stating that they had already left, with only one China Coast Guard vessel, identified as CCG 5204, remaining. Malaya sought to dispel reports of an invasion, characterising recent analyses as exaggerations, referring to the Chinese vessels’ presence as a “highly unusual invasion” and a “calculated show of force by Beijing” by a part of Philippines’ media.


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