The sixth and final shared fundamental characteristic is their increasingly comprehensive and substantive military cooperation. The 2011 joint declaration of the Japan-Philippines ‘strategic partnership’ featured an agreement to ‘promote exchanges and cooperation between their defense authorities,’ including reciprocal senior naval officer exchanges and naval port calls (Prime Minister Office of Japan, 2011). The MSDF and the Philippine Navy have since implemented this new emphasis on military interaction, the most notable example of which to date is the much publicized port call by two destroyers and a submarine of the MSDF to the Philippine Subic Bay naval base in 2016 (Johnson, 2016). This particular port call is best interpreted as military diplomacy supporting the Philippines in its territorial standoff with China. MSDF officials reportedly explained the visit by referring to it as necessary ‘to deal with recent developments in nearby waters,’ surely a reference to Chinese assertive behavior in the South China Sea (Sasaki, 2016).
Following the codification of military cooperation in the 2011 ‘strategic partnership" declaration, bilateral military interaction gained further traction. In 2012, the Japan's MOD and the Philippine Department of National Defense issued a
‘Statement of Intent on Defense Cooperation and Exchanges,’ later upgraded to a 2015 Memorandum of Understanding (MoD, 2012b, 2015c). The document declared their intention of continuing previously outlined defense exchanges but added, most notably, participation in each other’s, and joint, military exercises to the bilateral military cooperation agenda. The MSDF and the Philippine Navy proceeded with arranging in rapid succession their first and second joint naval exercises in mid-2015 (MoD, 2015a, p. 287; The Manila Times, 2015).
In addition, the joint statement declaring the ‘Strengthened Strategic Partnership' in 2014 gave a premonition of further substantiation of military relations. The two sides were seeking an agreement on bilateral trade in arms, it noted, and they were initiating negotiations to that effect (Prime Minister Office of Japan, 2015). Such an agreement on Japan's supply of military equipment to the Philippines was signed in February 2016, making the Philippines the fourth non-US partner with which Japan has such a military-industrial exchange arrangement, but the first East Asian state, the first unequivocally junior partner (i.e. small power), and the first oriented towards capacity building (Gomez, 2016). Philippine defense officials are reportedly expressing interest on the transfer of both P-3C patrol aircraft and retired submarines from Japan (Asahi Shimbun, 2016; Grevatt, 2015). Meanwhile, Japan has transferred five 1900 km range TC-90 maritime patrol craft to the Philippines (Rahmat, 2018) under a deal struck in May 2016 (Agence France-Presse, 2016). Originally, the deal was set up as a leasing arrangement. However, under new provisions for defense equipment cooperation with developing states, introduced in 2017 (MoD, n.d.), Japan ultimately donated the five aircraft. According to former President Aquino, the Philippines bid to acquire the aircraft ‘to assist [the Philippines Navy] in patrolling [Philippine territories], particularly in the West Philippine Sea' (Reuters, 2016c).
Further yet bilateral military cooperation is in the works. Japan is strengthening its daily working level military interaction with the Philippines in 2017 by dispatching additional defense attaches to its diplomatic mission in Manila (JIJI Press, 2016b). More importantly, in 2014, President Aquino revealed that he had discussed with Prime Minister Abe granting the Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF) base privileges in the Philippines via a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), noting that ‘[the Philippines] will be initiating all the diplomatic requirements to come up with a visiting forces agreement’ (Japan Times, 2015). In addition, Japan is reportedly preparing a military intelligence sharing pact with the Philippines and other South-East Asian coastal states, enabling exchange of classified information on defense equipment and foreign military movements and activities (Nikkei Asian Review, 2016). Coupled with the agreement on Japanese military hardware transfer to the Philippines, the implementation of a SOFA and an intelligence sharing agreement would unequivocally elevate Japan-Philippine ties to a militarily substantive and significant relationship.
Military cooperation has also incrementally substantiated the Japan-Vietnam ‘strategic partnership.' Exchanges and cooperation in defense featured in a 2007 Agenda drafted to move Japan and Vietnam relations towards a ‘strategic partnership.' The language, however, was non-committal, and this military contents were
Japan with the Philippines and Vietnam 113 notably absent from the 2009 declaration of the ‘strategic partnership' (MoFA. 2007,2009). Cooperation between their armed services was publicly reintroduced in an October 2011 memorandum on bilateral defense cooperation and exchanges promoting, amongst other, mutual high-ranking defense official visits and reciprocal naval port calls. In a joint statement issued alongside the memorandum, the parties expressed the shared view that such military exchanges 'would contribute to the strengthening of mutual understanding and trust, and to the peace and stability of the region’ (MoFA. 2011).
The 2014 declaration of the ‘Extensive Strategic Partnership’ contained a commitment to implement the military interaction outlined in the 2011 Memorandum (MoFA, 2014b). Meanwhile, Japan took a step in that direction as Defense Minister Onodera visited Cam Ranh Bay, a strategic naval base housing Vietnam’s young submarine fleet, in September 2013. On the occasion, Onodera noted before the press his ‘expectation . . . that the cooperative relationship between Vietnam and Japan, which includes military-related interactions beyond the boundary of Cam Ranh Bay, will strengthen' (MoFA, 2013a). This led to the first naval port call by MSDF destroyers to a Vietnamese naval base in early 2016. Notably, however, the submarine the two destroyers had accompanied to the previously mentioned port call at the Philippine Subic Bay naval base just days earlier did not partake in the visit (Sasaki, 2016), ostensibly reflecting differences in the maturity of Japan's security partnerships with the Philippines and Vietnam, respectively. However, in June 2019 bilateral defense cooperation progressed further as the Japanese naval flagship vessel, the JS Izumo flat-top destroyer, led the MSDF in its first naval exercise with the Vietnamese Navy in waters off Cam Ranh Bay (Navy Recognition, 2019).
Bilateral military cooperation between Japan and Vietnam is set to further increase. A decision has reportedly been made for the MSDF P-3Cs maritime patrol aircraft returning from anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden to start refueling at, amongst other, a Vietnamese air base (The Yomiuri Shimbun, 2016). Japan has moreover strengthened its daily working level military interaction with Vietnam by deploying additional defense attaches to its diplomatic mission in Hanoi (JIJI Press, 2016b). Finally, Japan is reportedly preparing a military intelligence sharing pact with Vietnam as well, strengthening defense cooperation by enabling exchange of classified information on defense equipment and foreign military movements and activities (Nikkei Asian Review, 2016). While much of Japan's military interaction with Vietnam has been of the symbolic sorts, the implementation of such an intelligence sharing arrangement would add a militarily substantial and potentially significant element to their bilateral cooperation under the ‘strategic partnership.'