Japan, Philippines hold joint anti-piracy drills off Manila (with China in mind)
Filipino and Japanese coastguard teams staged an anti-piracy drill involving a mock ship hijacking. This is the first joint exercise since the two nations inked a strategic partnership in 2012. Three more drills are planned this year. Japan is helping other Southeast nations stand up to China.

Manila (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Philippines and Japan yesterday carried out a joint anti-piracy drill, boosting bilateral ties in de facto opposition to China.

Filipino and Japanese coastguard teams staged the anti-piracy drill, about 16 km off the port of Manila, in which a Japanese anti-terrorist team used a rubber boat to engage mock hijackers who had seized a vessel.

This show of force and cooperation between Manila and Tokyo comes at a time of growing tension in the seas of Asia-Pacific involving, among others, Vietnam.

Yesterday's drill was the first held by Japan and the Philippines after they signed a strategic partnership pact in 2012.

The rare maritime law enforcement drill in Manila Bay was watched by the coastguard chiefs of 17 Asian nations, including China, who are meeting to find ways to cooperate in boosting safety and battling piracy and transnational crime.

The Philippines plans to hold three exercises with Japan this year. Tokyo has been helping Manila improve its skills in maritime law enforcement, safety and environment protection, Captain Koichi Kawagoe of Japan's coastguard said.

"This exercise is for mutual interest, such as pirates and illegal trafficking, drug trafficking, firearms trafficking," he said, adding that Japan was ready to help Southeast Asian nations in such cases.

This is not likely to go down well in Beijing, which is pursuing expansionist policies in the region.

In fact, concern over China’s “imperialism” in the East and South China Seas is not limited to the Philippines.

Vietnam too has expressed objections. However, Manila went one step further and took its dispute to a UN tribunal, albeit one without binding authority.

Broadly speaking, China claims a large chunk of the South and East China Seas (almost 85 per cent), including the Spratly and Paracel Islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia.

Southeast Asian nations are backed by the United States. Washington rejects as “illegal" and "irrational" Beijing’s “cow tongue” claim in the South China Sea, which amounts to 80 per cent of 3.5-million km2-wide sea.

Moreover, China and Japan are also at loggerheads over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.

With oil and gas in the seabed, the region has great economic and geopolitical importance, and carries an important strategic value for any hegemon.