Manila/Washington — A trilateral cooperation agreement to enhance maritime security and maintain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region has been reached by Japan, the United States, and the Philippines. The National Security Advisers of these three nations met for the first time in Tokyo to discuss a concrete approach to improving trilateral cooperation. The three NSAs have decided on combined maritime activities, including multilateral joint naval exercises, to promote trilateral-based security capabilities and support freedom of navigation as well as the broader rules-based order.

The three countries have also pledged to work together to deepen trilateral cooperation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) efforts. They will make collective efforts to promote economic security and resilience in the region. Meanwhile, Japan is preparing military aid for the Philippines to help secure sea approaches and safeguard Taiwan’s western flank. This move strengthens security ties that may bring Japanese forces back there for the first time since World War Two. These agreements could be a precursor to a reciprocal access agreement (RAA) that would allow both countries to deploy their forces on each other’s soil.

Trilateral Cooperation for Indo-Pacific Peace and Stability

The Security Advisers of Japan, the United States, and the Philippines recently held their first round of talks in Tokyo, during which they reaffirmed their commitment to enhancing trilateral cooperation in maritime security aimed at promoting peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. The three NSAs – Akiba Takeo of Japan, Jake Sullivan of the US, and Eduardo Año of the Philippines – discussed the importance of strengthening trilateral cooperation and response capabilities.

To this end, the NSAs agreed to conduct combined maritime activities, including multilateral joint naval exercises, to promote freedom of navigation and support a broader rules-based order. They also recognized the significance of promoting Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) by utilizing Japan’s new “Official Security Assistance (OSA)” cooperation framework, the QUAD’s Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA), and other capacity-building measures.

In addition to the joint training among the coast guards of the three countries that were conducted in early June, the NSAs committed to making common efforts to promote economic security and resilience to maintain a free and equitable economic order. Finally, they affirmed their commitment to collaborating with other partners in addressing economic coercion.

Japan’s Military Aid to the Philippines

Japan is taking steps to deepen its security ties with the Philippines by providing military aid to secure sea approaches and safeguard Taiwan’s western flank. If this aid is provided, it will be the first time since World War II that Japanese forces are back in the Philippines. As Japan distances itself from pacifism, it is concerned that the Philippines may be a weak link in an island chain that stretches from Japan to Indonesia. Ships must pass through this area to reach the Pacific Ocean, making it a critical route. The Japanese military is particularly worried about a potential Chinese attack on Taiwan, as it could lead to a more extensive conflict. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has warned that what is happening in Ukraine today could happen in East Asia tomorrow.

To address these concerns, Japan has announced that it will offer military aid to like-minded nations, including radars that will help the Philippines plug its defensive gaps. However, due to a self-imposed ban on lethal equipment exports, the scope of Japanese military aid is limited. Nonetheless, Kishida plans to review this restriction in December, as part of an unprecedented five-year military build-up that aims to double defense spending within five years. Looser export rules are expected in the coming months, but with pressure mounting on industrial economies to assist Ukraine, Tokyo has begun testing its own restrictions.

Potential Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA)

The recent diplomatic talks between Japan and the Philippines have raised the possibility of a reciprocal access agreement (RAA) that would enable both nations to deploy their military forces on each other’s soil. If Manila agrees to such an agreement, which Japan has already established with Britain and Australia, the pact could be finalized within a year. Since the change in administration, the Philippines has shown encouraging signs, indicating a potential for quick agreement. However, experts caution that the issue is sensitive given the Philippines’ relationship with China, and suggest that discussions should focus on economic security along with defense to appease Manila’s concerns.

Conclusion

The trilateral cooperation between Japan, the United States, and the Philippines promotes peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. Joint naval exercises and combined maritime activities are necessary for maintaining freedom of navigation and upholding the broader rules-based order. The agreements also signify a deepening of security ties between Japan and the Philippines, which could lead to a reciprocal access agreement (RAA) that would allow both countries to deploy their forces on each other’s soil. While Japan prepares military aid for the Philippines to help secure sea approaches and safeguard Taiwan’s western flank, experts say that Japan and the United States must tread carefully in trilateral talks with the Philippines, putting forward economic issues or economic security to ease the country’s sensitivity about its relations with China.