Japan in Balikatan: observer this year, active player soon

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First time in 15 years a Japanese submarine docked at Subic Bay. PHOTO from wikipedia
First time in 15 years a Japanese submarine docked at Subic Bay. PHOTO from Wikipedia

By Reynard Magtoto

LEGAZPI CITY, 25June2016 (BicolToday.com) – Recently, more than 50, 000 Japanese protesters rallied on the Japanese island of Okinawa, Japan against the heavy United States (US) military presence and violent crimes by its personnel that have angered residents for decades.“As long as there are US military bases, incidents like rape and murder will continue to happen,” according to them.

However, U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security of 1960 authorized the U.S. military presence in Japan. As part of the US-Japan security alliance, there will be bilateral agreements on war planning, conduct of joint exercises and studies among others.

In Philippines, only US and Australia had a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) as part of security alliance.Now that Japan engaged in the VFA and the Philippine-Japan Military Cooperation is rapidly growing, Japanese will not only suffer but more Filipinos will experience the dark side of military presence in the country.

Progressive groups have validated that even in the Philippines violent crimes like rape and murder will continue to happen if there are US military bases in the country.

People’s organizations in Philippine and Japan are expressing solidarity with each other and are organizing the common fightback against the US and Japan military maneuvers.

“We oppose the developing US-JPN-PHL trilateral military collaboration, the growing Philippine-Japan military cooperation and the Japan’s own militarization,” stated in the joint statement of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan and Asia-Wide Campaign-Japan.

The statement added that they oppose any arms race in the region by the big imperialist powers as they aspire for a peaceful and diplomatic resolution of all outstanding maritime and territorial disputes.

Australia joined the war games called Balikatan exercises in the Philippines in 2014. For now, Japan served as observer but will be directly involved in the joint exercise next year.

Balikatan 2016, that took place on April 4 to 16, marked the 32nd iteration of annual bilateral exercise between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the U.S. military, which focuses on the Philippine-U.S. Partnership. This include Philippines’ military development and modernization with humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities.

This year is the 70th anniversary of the U.S.and Philippine Mutual Defense relationship, which started in 1946 and was codified in the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951. Supposedly, Australia and even Japan should not be involved in “shoulder-to-shoulder” military exercise between the AFP and the U.S. military.

According to Lt. Gen. Toolan, commander of  U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific and Balikatan 2016 U.S. exercise director, this year have a single scenario that focuses on training and enhancing the capabilities of AFP, U.S. and Australian armed forces to provide relief and assistance in the event of natural disasters and other crises that endanger public health and safety.

The BK16 – Joint Task Force Commander was Lieutenant General Lawrence D. Nicholson who is a Marine Forces Japan Commander. LtGen. Nicholson is also the Commanding General of III Marine Expeditionary Force when he assumed command on 11 September 2015.

This year’s military exercise took place as Manila and Washington prepare for the rotational deployment of U.S. forces at five Philippine military bases under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) coincidentally.

While Japan was not directly participating in the exercise, it was first time in 15 years a Japanese submarine docked at Philippines’ strategic port Subic Bay ahead of the actual military exercise. Japanese Maritime Defense Force (JMSDF) also sent down two warships and agreed to sell short-range reconnaissance aircraft and partrol boats to the country.

The destroyers JS Ariake and JS Setogiri and the submarine JS Oyashio joined seven U.S. Navy vessels that were docked in the port for Balikatan but were invited to observe the exercise.

However, there was a report that US Defense Department announced that Washington is in talks with Tokyo about Japan participating in future Balikatan exercises.

On 5th of June 2015, President Benigno Aquino III reportedly said that Philippines will be initiating all the diplomatic requirements to come up with a Visiting Forces Agreement with Japan.

According to reports, Japanese ambassador to the Philippines Kazuhide Ishikawa and Philippine Defense Minister Voltaire Gazmin signed an agreement last February 29 that outlines joint military training and the donation of Japan’s used military equipment to the Philippines. It includes a new framework for the supply of military hardware and technology as well as provisions for joint research and development that will boost their defense cooperation.

In November 2015, Tokyo announced that it plans to transfer three used Beechcraft TC-90 King Air patrol planes in the Philippines this year. Both countries are also in talks over new P-3C Orions patrol aircraft.

The agreement comes right after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders’ Meeting and just before the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The country is the first Southeast Asian country to have such a defense deal with Tokyo, Japan while Japan only signed similar defense deals with Australia and US.

Japan is still a military colony of US. Allegedly the defense deal is not directed against any country but aims to address gaps in the underfunded Philippine military’s capabilities.

The Philippines has signed such visiting forces accords with the United States and Japan and vowed to intensify defense cooperation with possible agreement that will allow Japanese forces to hold larger exercises with AFP troops in the country.

Next to the US, Japan is a major source of maritime security assistance in the Philippines. Japan remains as the country’s top trading partner and provider of development aid since 2010.

Japan is now enhancing the role of its military by loosening post-World War II constraints and change the way it uses its military.

The Philippine government did not push its historical baggage with the Japan Government. Its priorities lie in upgrading bilateral security and economic cooperation with Japan.

Bayan and Asia-Wide Campaign-Japan demand Japanese government’s implementation of official apology and state compensation to all the victims of past Japanese war of aggression and colonization, including the victims of Japanese army’s sexual slavery in Philippines and other areas in Asia. [BicolToday.com]

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