MANILA, -- Japan and the Philippines are to sign an agreement as early as next week to promote technological cooperation, a move that would allow Tokyo to transfer some war-fighting equipment to Manila.
The two governments have been holding working-level talks on the matter since a broad agreement was reached at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in November last year, NHK reported.
The deal is the first of its kind between two Asian countries, although Japan has a similar standing agreement with the US, Australia, Britain and France.
Manila has shown an interest in adopting training aircraft used by Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force, with an eye toward surveillance and patrol activities in the South China Sea as the Philippines continues to be locked with China in a sovereignty dispute over several islands.
Observers say the Japanese government is apparently aiming at keeping China in check after the latter reclaimed a disputed island, built an airstrip and installed radar systems and surface-to-air missiles.
In late November, Manila and Tokyo broadly agreed on a pact for the transfer of defense equipment and technology, a move likely spurred – at least in part – by mutual concern over Beijing’s massive land-reclamation projects.
Once inked, the pact would allow Tokyo to send Self-Defense Forces equipment to the Philippines.
Despite being one of the most vocal opponents of Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, Manila is considered ill equipped to challenge China’s moves and has looked both to Tokyo and Washington in an effort to alleviate this shortcoming.
Japan has already agreed to supply the Philippines with a low-interest loan to purchase a fleet of 10 patrol vessels and has reportedly received requests from President Aquino for larger coast guard patrol vessels and PC-3 submarine-hunting planes.
Media reports have also said that Japan hopes to donate three used Beechcraft TC-90 King Air aircraft, which it uses to train military pilots and can be fitted with basic surface and air surveillance radar.
These moves have been in lockstep with Washington, which has also scaled up its assistance to Manila as part of its so-called rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region.
Experts say Japan hopes that by providing aircraft, ships and other gear, it can help beef up the Philippines’ maritime surveillance abilities as a way to check China’s growing territorial ambitions in both the South and East China seas.
The the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force Lockheed (Kawasaki) P-3C "Orion" maritime patrol aircraft.