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South China Sea
Philippines and Japan Get Busy in the South China Sea

As the United States doubles down in Asia, Japan and the Philippines are strengthening their military ties. Reuters:

China expressed alarm on Thursday about an agreement in which the Philippines will lease five aircraft from Japan to help patrol the disputed South China Sea.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino said the five TC-90 training aircraft would help the navy in patrolling what the Philippines views as its territory.

The Philippines has made the modernization of its air and naval forces a priority as China deploys missiles and fighters on a number of artificial islands in the South China Sea.

The Philippines isn’t a huge military threat, but it has caused China some real headaches. Last year, the Philippines dragged China in front of an international arbitration panel over the two countries’ territorial tussle in the South China Sea. A decision is apparently due in May, though China warns that the court’s decision will not influence its behavior. Last fall, Manila hosted President Obama during his tour of Asia aboard a former U.S. frigate that now belongs to the Philippine navy—a very public show of solidarity as the United States ramps up its military assistance in 2016.

Elsewhere, a top Japanese official called on countries to come together to conduct joint operations in the South China Sea. Stars and Stripes:

Japan’s strategy should be to help those nations establish a “mini Japan Coast Guard” and a “mini Japan Maritime Self Defense Force” to patrol the South China Sea, he said.

“If other international partners join it will provide more legitimacy for the U.S. action,” Kotani said. “The more partners join, the better the leverage.”

The call echoes comments by the U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Joseph P. Aucoin, U.S. 7th Fleet commander, who told reporters in Australia last month that it would be in the region’s “best interests” if Australia and other nations sent warships within 12 nautical miles of disputed territory, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Will countries other than the United States start conducting their own Freedom of Navigation Operations? Will Japan?

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