Japan has joined a US-led naval exercise with the Philippines navy for the first time. Concerns in China have mounted as the three allies continue to show resistance to China's assertiveness, especially in the South China Sea. China continues its program of building island bases in disputed areas such as Fiery Cross Reef. Secretary of State John Kerry recently stated that Chinese behavior in the region is a form of "militarization" that contributes to instability.
A Japanese navy replenishment ship was in Subic Bay in the Philippines on August 13 to refuel a U.S. Navy floating hospital en route to Vietnam on a seven-nation humanitarian mission. This was the first time that a Japanese naval vessel has taken part in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief drills in the region, However, a fleet of Japanese training vessels, including a submarine, makes annual port calls at Manila.
Rear Admiral Charles Williams, commander of US Seventh Fleet's Task Force 73, said humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercises were becoming a regular component of military exercises in the Philippines. Williams told journalists abord USNS Mercy, one of two US Navy hospital ships, "You are seeing in exercises ... a shift from strictly bilateral engagement to multilateral, which is why you see the Japanese here today." Rear Admiral Williams said that the visit to the Philippines by Japanese Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano, head of Japan's Self-Defence Forces, "speaks volumes about their commitment to the region and their commitment to being part of a multilateral engagement."
This week, Admiral Kawano met with Filipino General Hernando Iriberri and Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin. In Manila, Adm. Kawano said Japan is interested in holding joint amphibious landing exercises and operations with Philippine marines. He also told Gazmin that Japan wants to share information on building military capabilities in the South China Sea, particularly in the area of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. For his part, Rear Admiral Williams said humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations are "a great avenue towards increasing maritime stability and security in this region."