PH-Japan Defense Pact Amid Rising Geopolitical Tensions

Indeed, for the first time since World War II, Japanese soldiers will conduct military operations on Philippine soil. On Monday, July 8, 2024, Japanese Foreign Minister Kamikawa Yoko and the Defense Minister were in the Philippines for the 2nd Foreign and Defense Ministerial Meeting (2+2), the highest-level consultative mechanism aimed at deepening security, military, and defense policy coordination and cooperation between the two nations. This event facilitated the ceremonial signing of the Philippines-Japan Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) by Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. and Foreign Minister Kamikawa Yoko, in the presence of President Marcos Jr.

The RAA will bring a new military and defense cooperation era between the Philippines and Japan. The agreement allows for easier deployment and stationing of Japanese troops and equipment for joint military training, exercises, and military operations in the Philippines.

Key Implications

The RAA may face scrutiny and debate in Japan and the Philippines. In Japan, the pacifist constitution and the legacy of WWII may lead to domestic opposition. In the Philippines, the presence of foreign troops, more particularly Japanese soldiers, may raise sovereignty and constitutionality concerns among the Filipino public.

Regarding the SCS dispute, the Philippines’ closer defense and military cooperation with Japan (through the RAA) and the US may further strain and exacerbate tensions between the Philippines and China, given China’s sensitivity to foreign military presence in the region, more particularly joint military exercises between Japan, the US, and the Philippines, could be perceived as a direct challenge to China’s military standing, claims and activities in the SCS. This could heighten the tension between the Philippines and China. China could view Japan’s involvement in the SCS as part of a broader containment strategy led by the US.

Note that Japan’s position on the SCS aligns closely with that of the US in several key aspects, although there are some nuanced differences. For instance, Japan strongly supports and advocates for the US’s so-called conducts of Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) and “rules-based order” in the SCS. 

Moreover, the enhanced security, defense, and military cooperation between Japan and the Philippines through the RAA could prompt other regional players to reconsider their strategic alignments and seek and pursue similar agreements to bolster their security with regional powers.

This development might trigger an arms race, create a Cold War-like atmosphere, lead to bloc confrontations, and foster a tension-driven ASEAN region. Likewise, foreign military forces and joint operations increase the risk of accidental confrontations or miscalculations that could potentially escalate into larger military conflicts, which could have unintended consequences. Hence, the RAA can adversely and profoundly shift the strategic balance in Southeast Asia and regional security dynamics, bringing risks of escalation, military conflict, and divisions among Southeast Asian nations.


The RAA poses several potential risks and challenges. Balancing the positive and negative impacts will require careful diplomatic, political, and strategic management to ensure that the agreement is not directed to any country in the region and that it enhances the country’s security without compromising regional security, peace, stability, and development.

Source: The Lobbyist

Prof. Anna Rosario Malindog-Uy

Prof. Anna Rosario Malindog-Uy is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Institute of South-South Cooperation and Development (ISSCAD), Peking University, Beijing, China. She is currently a director and the Vice President for External Affairs of the Asian Century Philippines Strategic Studies Institute (ACPSSI), a think tank based in Manila. She also serves as the political/geopolitical analyst of ACPSSI. Currently, she is a Senior Researcher of the South China Sea Probing Initiative (SCSPI) and a Senior Research Fellow of the Global Governance Institution (GGI). She is also the President of Techperformance Corp, an IT-based company in the Philippines. Prof. Anna Uy taught Political Science, International Relations, Development Studies, European Studies, Southeast Asia, and China Studies. She is a researcher-writer, academic, and consultant on a wide array of issues. She has worked as a consultant with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other local and international NGOs.