Japanese sub docks in Philippines

The Imperial Japanese Navy is moving south. Source: Wikimedia

Japan has sent a submarine to a Philippine port for the first time in 15 years in a show of military solidarity amid tension triggered by Beijing’s advances in the South China Sea.

One of the newest and largest submarines in Japan’s navy was escorted into the former US naval base at Subic Bay by two Japanese destroyers, the JS Ariake and JS Setogiri, on a tour of Southeast Asia.

“This is just an exercise and the main objective is to train the officers,” said Captain Hiraoki Yoshino of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force. “We don’t have any message to any country,” he told the press, adding that the visit was aimed to build confidence between Tokyo and Manila.

Beijing claims almost all the South China Sea, through which an estimated US$5 trillion of trade sails every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan have overlapping claims with China.

Japan and China are engaged in a parallel dispute over islets in the East China Sea. Japan is raising its profile in the South China Sea, sending more vessels and aircraft to Vietnam and the Philippines.

Japan would seek further cooperation with Asean members to ensure stability in what the Philippines calls the West Philippine Sea, Defence Minister Gen Nakatani said.

“It is important for the international community to work together to ensure that the seas are open, free and peaceful,” Nakatani told the Japanese media.

The Philippines and the United States start military exercise today (Monday), including drills to retake an island from an enemy force. The exercise will not go unnoticed in Beijing.

Beijing reacted negatively to the increase in military relations between Washington and Manila, labelling the exercise a “reflection of a Cold War mentality.”

Tokyo has offered to help Manila increase its capability in monitoring the disputed waters by leasing three TC-90 surveillance planes.