PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines --- A P3-C patrol aircraft of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force on Sunday landed in Puerto Princesa City, in Palawan to take part in a training exercise with the Philippine military, marking the first time for an SDF unit to enter the island.
The exercise is seen as an opportunity to display the strength of Japan's cooperation with the Philippines, with an eye to China's controversial land reclamation on the disputed Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
About 20 members belonging to the first aircraft group of MSDF Kanoya Air Base in Kagoshima Prefecture arrived on the P3-C. From Tuesday, personnel of the Philippine military are to board the plane for a scheduled flight over international waters of the South China Sea.
The exercise is humanitarian in nature, focused on improving joint efforts in conducting maritime search and rescue during a disaster.
Adm. Tomohisa Takei, commander of the MSDF who visited the island in February during an official visit to the Philippines, said warning and surveillance activity "is not envisioned."
At a summit meeting held in Tokyo on June 4, Philippine President Benigno Aquino and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to begin negotiations on an accord for the transfer of defense equipment and technology in the fields of disaster relief and maritime security, as their nations bolster security ties due to tensions sparked by the pace and extent of China's reclamation work.
Although details have yet to be worked out, Japanese government sources have said P3-C patrol aircraft and radar-related equipment are seen as potential export items.
Separately from the drill with the MSDF, the Philippines is scheduled to hold regular naval exercises with the United States east of Palawan from Monday.
Japan and the Philippines, which mark the 60th anniversary of bilateral ties next year, have increasingly stepped up their cooperation in the face of China's increasing assertiveness in the contested waters.
China claims sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, which is a vital shipping lane and believed to have rich fishing grounds. Rival claimants in the dispute are Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines, which is one of the most vocal in opposing China's push for overlapping territorial claims.
While Japan is not directly linked to the South China Sea dispute, it fears Beijing's expanding influence in the sea. The United States, an ally of Japan and the Philippines, does not take a stand in the territorial issues but has expressed concern over unilateral attempts to change the status quo at sea by force.