Recently, the Japanese Embassy in the Philippines stated that the first air-to-air drill between Japan Air Self-Defense Force(JASDF) and the Philippine Air Force at Clark Air Base in the Philippines from July 5th to 8th was a"major milestone" in the defense cooperation between the two air forces.
Nothing new in the exercise
The four-day drill was concentrated on humanitarian rescue and disaster relief.
Affected by the previous crash of C-130 transport aircraft of the Philippine Air Force, the drill canceled flight training courses and only carries out ground-based exercises on heavy load and unload training, simulated emergency procedures, etc. Japan claimed that the drill aimed to strengthen the interoperability of delivering relief supplies to disaster-stricken people in remote areas in emergencies.
Before the drill, the JASDF stated that since both countries are vulnerable to natural disasters such as earthquakes and typhoons, Japan is willing to share with the Philippine Air Force its experience and expertise in delivering relief supplies to victims.
However, compared to the "important milestone in the defense cooperation between the two sides" claimed by the Japanese Embassy in the Philippines, the number of the troops, equipment and training courses involved in the exercise are really limited, showing a sense of stinginess.
This year marks the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and the Philippines, and the 10th anniversary of the establishment of a strategic partnership between the two sides.
It is obvious to see Japan’s strategic intentions as it chooses to hold the military drill with ground breaking significance at this time, which are to improve Japan-Philippines security cooperation, strengthen its momentum to push forward the "Indo-Pacific strategy" and compete for regional dominance.
Two sides, two thoughts
As far as Japan is concerned, the Philippines has critical geostrategic value as it is not only an important checkpoint controlling Japan's "maritime lifeline" at the end of the southwest route, but also an essential strategic pivot for Japan to promote the "Indo-Pacific strategy". Meanwhile, the Philippines is also one of the major exporters of Japanese defense equipment.
In addition, it is Japan’s usual tactic to break through the restrictions of the peace constitution and use its military power in overseas countries with an excuse of disaster relief and joint exercises. Through this drill, Japan also intends to expand its regional influence by demonstrating its force.
For the Philippines, its established strategy is to seek a strategic balance among major powers. Especially in the current situation of increasingly fierce competition among major powers, the Philippines is trying to use its own advantages to deal with the major powers and strive to maximize its national interests.
By strengthening its defense cooperation with Japan, the Philippines has taken the opportunity to advance economic cooperation with Japan, asking Japan to increase its military and economic assistance to the Philippines to stabilize the current domestic political and economic turmoil in the country.
It’s easy to find that although Japan-Philippines air-to-air drill has made new progress in defense cooperation, the interests of the two sides are not consistent in fact.
Japan focuses more on the military and security aspects trying to use the Philippines as the pivot for its "Indo-Pacific strategy", whereas the Philippines hopes to gain more aid from Japan,which makes the drill more symbolic than substantial.