Asia's Game of Thrones
Japan and the Philippines Bond Over China Threat

Relations between Tokyo and Manila have been warming recently thanks to solidarity over the threat of Chinese expansionism, but never so rapidly as in the past week. Now, in the most tangible result of the friendship yet, Japan is trying to give surveillance aircraft to the Philippines, according to unconfirmed but solid Japanese sources who spoke to Reuters:

Four sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters that Japan was looking to offer three Beechcraft TC-90 King Air planes that could be fitted with basic surface and air surveillance radar.

They said talks within the Japanese government were preliminary and would need to overcome legal hurdles. Japan had yet to formally propose the planes as an alternative to more sophisticated Lockheed Martin P3-C aircraft that Manila wants to track Chinese submarine activity, they added. […]

The planes would make a genuine difference for Manila, which said last week that it didn’t have almost any surveillance capacity at all, and that it had relied on the word of returning fishermen to find out about China’s massive land reclamation projects in the Spratly Islands

If the donation gets through, it will be Japan’s first ever gift of military hardware to another country, making it a minor milestone in Shinzo Abe’s campaign to push Japan towards militarism. There’s every reason to think Tokyo will do all it can to make it happen. Japan has a strong vested interest in the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, although it claims none of the area for itself. And lately, as China has cooled things off in the East China Sea, where it had been threatening Japanese vessels around the Senkaku Islands, the country has stepped up aggression in the South China Sea, bringing tensions there to an uncomfortable boil. Tokyo seems to have taken note, and its feelings of solidarity with fellow opponents of China can only be bolstered by its desire to keep China focused southward—and to keep the action at arms length.

China, for its part, has made it more than clear that it despises surveillance overflights, and at last week’s ASEAN meeting, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi loudly decried what his country interprets as Manila and Tokyo’s collusion. Watch this space to see how it all plays out.

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