Earlier this month, Japan and the Philippines finally held the first iteration of their new defense industry forum. Although the mechanism is just one of many developments their relationship, it is not without significance for their security ties as well as for the broader bilateral relationship more generally.
While Japan and the Philippines have long had a bilateral relationship, the development of the defense aspect of ties has accelerated over the past few years, covering various issues including not just defense equipment and transfer, but also critical capacity-building and broader regional cooperation in areas ranging from cybersecurity to maritime security. Some of that has continued in spite of the challenges posed by the rise of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
Among the areas of defense cooperation has been defense industry. Collaboration in this area as factored into consultations by both sides as well as agreements, with a case in point being a pact on the transfer of defense equipment and technology inked by both sides back in 2016. While inroads made have been quite slow on the defense industry side, there have been some equipment transfers, with a case in point being one for helicopter spare parts in March which constituted the first exchange of excess Japanese defense equipment to a Southeast Asian state.
Last week, the defense industry aspect of the relationship was in the headlines again with the holding of a new bilateral defense engagement. The Philippines and Japan finally held the first iteration of a bilateral defense industry forum in the Philippines, a step that both sides had been mulling previously.
The first Philippines-Japan Defense Industry Forum, hosted by the international cooperation division of the Japan defense ministry’s Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA), was held in Taguig City on October 1. The forum saw the attendance of a range of defense industry and government stakeholders from the two countries, with the objective of discussing options and sharing experiences about policies and procedures on the procurement and export of defense equipment and technologies.
During the dialogue, both sides discussed areas of potential collaboration in defense industry, including research, development, production, and transfer of equipment. While few specifics were publicly unveiled by either side, defense outlet IHS Jane’s said it understood that the specific area of focus was on maritime security, with technologies and platforms for potential collaboration including unmanned and robotic systems; communications, command-and-control systems; and radar and surveillance equipment.
Per the Philippines News Agency, in his remarks at the engagement, Philippine Defense Undersecretary Cardozo Luna underscored the significance of the engagement, noting Japan’s more active approach in providing defense technologies to other countries and its benefits for the Philippine military in both learning more about defense technologies and acquisition processes as well as providing another option for the range of items on its military modernization list. And though it is still early days in this aspect of the engagement, the holding of the new forum nonetheless attests to the continued interest on both sides for advancements to be made in the coming months and years.