Japan and the Philippines held joint coast-guard exercises to practice an anti-piracy ship-boarding operation, their first drills since they signed a pact in 2012. Reuters reports:
Japan has been helping the Philippines improve its skills in maritime law enforcement, safety and environment protection, Captain Koichi Kawagoe of Japan’s coast guard told reporters.
“This exercise is for mutual interest, such as pirates and illegal trafficking, drug trafficking, firearms trafficking,” Kawagoe said, adding that Japan was ready to help Southeast Asian nations, even in the disputed South China Sea.
As these things go, the drill was taken quite well by China:
The exercises in Manila Bay were watched by the coast guard chiefs of 17 Asian nations, including China, who are meeting to find ways to cooperate in boosting safety and battling piracy and transnational crime. […]
Asked about the drills, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in Beijing she hoped countries in the region could “do more to increase mutual trust and maintain regional peace and stability”.
But don’t forget the context in which this is taking place; China has been stepping its more aggressive maritime policies back up, and was recently revealed to have built a runway long enough for military aircraft in the Spratly Islands (a chain also claimed by the Phillippines). At the very least, these drills show that Tokyo and Manila, despite their bitter history, are committed to working together on maritime matters—and their concerns are hardly limited to pirates.