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Game of Thrones: Japan Arms the Philippines

As Japan’s war of words with China continues to escalate, it’s beginning to move closer to another former rival—the Philippines. Last month, Tokyo announced plans to donate 10 brand-new patrol boats to the Philippine Coast Guard. Later in the month, the two countries met to discuss further expanding their maritime cooperation in the contested waters of the South China Sea.

The closer relationship makes sense for Japan, which is looking for partners in its protracted conflict with China. And it makes sense for the Philippines as well. Although the Philippines have refrained from the blustery anti-Chinese rhetoric of Japanese PM Shinzo Abe, it too is an island archipelago deeply concerned about China’s muscle flexing in the South China Sea. Chinese patrol ships have been repeatedly harassing Filipino fishing ships over the past few months, and the two countries have repeatedly sparred over their competing claims to the Scarborough Shoal.

Japan and the Philippines certainly have come a long way since Japan occupied the Philippines during World War II, an occupation in which 10,000 Filipino POWs died in the horrific “Bataan Death March.” But their current relationship bears no marks of the former ill will. Philippine President Benigno Aquino recently welcomed a stronger Japan as a counterweight to a “threatening” China, and supports Japanese plans to reform its pacifistic constitution. This mirrors a similar reparation in Filipino-American relations: The U.S. Navy has recently returned to the naval base in Subic Bay after its expulsion in 1992.

A few Filipino patrol boats alone won’t be enough to alter the balance of power in the Pacific. But as the various countries around China’s periphery slowly move closer together in response to its provocations, we’re seeing a new political structure gradually begin to emerge in East Asia.

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