Quick Look: Is Japan’s New Security Legislation a Precursor to Deeper Manila-Tokyo Ties?

Angelica Mangahas, Deputy Executive Director & Security Specialist at the ADR Institute 

Earlier this month, we wrote about the burgeoning Philippines-Japan Strategic Partnership and how it continues earlier steps taken by both countries, especially Japan, to deepen their ties since the 1990s.[1] Nevertheless, the longstanding relationship has previously lacked a serious security dimension. In one part, the Philippines and Japan did not share perceived threats to their security; in another, Japan’s reading of its World War II-era constitution limited how the country could assist a ‘friendly’ country like the Philippines.

Why is the proposed legislation controversial in Japan, China, and South Korea?


(Image source: http://thediplomat.com/)

With Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s return to power in 2012, Japan’s interpretation of the constitutional limits looked set to change. Our expectations turned closer to reality over the weekend, when Japan’s parliament—after hot debates and amid protests—passed Abe-sponsored security bills that would expand Japan’s self-defense mandate to include the defense of friendly states. [2] The hubbub over these bills extended beyond Abe’s domestic opposition to the rest of Northeast Asia; detractors in Beijing and Seoul, as well as in Tokyo, all view the bills as the beginning of the end for Japan’s seven decades of pacifism.[3] In China and South Korea, the wounds of war (the Second Sino-Japanese War—notorious for the Rape of Nanking—lasted from 1937-1945) and occupation (Japan occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945) have not fully healed. Refer to our previous brief for a comparison of 2014 Northeast and Southeast Asian views of Japan.


(Image source: http://www.aljazeera.com/)

How has the Philippines responded to the bills’ passage in the Japanese lower house?

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs has come out in support of the new laws. In its statement, the DFA says it looks “forward to efforts that strengthen our Strategic Partnership with Japan and those that would contribute further to shared goals of greater peace, stability, and mutual prosperity in the international community.”


(Image Source: http://www.inquirer.net/)

At a July forum hosted by ADRi, Secretary Del Rosario had already indicated that this would be the case, saying “if the Japanese people are in favor [of the proposed bills], we would be very supportive of that.”

Is this legislation a precursor to deeper Japanese-Philippine security cooperation?

The new legislation provides a legal basis for Japan to come to the Philippines’ assistance in the event of conflict, although Japan would not have an obligation in this regard. Barring conflict, the laws would still provide firmer ground for Japan to build stronger security relations with the Philippines. The two countries have already engaged in limited naval exercises, and Japan has reportedly eyed joining the United States in patrolling areas of the South China Sea. [4]

Should Manila be interested in deeper cooperation, however, its next step would be to negotiate and then pass a Status of Forces Agreement with Tokyo. The process of enacting such a measure, however, could take years; the Philippine agreement with Australia, for example, took seven years to pass. There is also no predicting the Filipino public’s receptiveness to a text mirroring the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States. As with the VFA, an agreement with Japan would allow Japanese assets to come ashore.


(Image Source: http://philstar.com)

Finally, the legal process in Japan or the Philippines is a separate question from what a Japanese government would decide to do with any new abilities. By some estimates, around 54% of Japanese people oppose the new measures. [5] Taking action will be sensitive to political palatability issues in Tokyo as well as Manila.

[1] “Connecting the East Asian Rim,” Spark by ADRi, 2 September 2015. 

[2] “Japan’s Parliament Approves Overseas Combat Role for Military.” New York Times, 18 September 2015. 

[3] “Lower House Passes Security Bills Amid Protests,” Japan Times, 16 July 2015. 

[4] “Japan Open to Joining US in South China Sea,” Wall Street Journal¸25 June 2015.

[5] “Support for Japan’s Abe sags after security bills passed,” Reuters, 21 September 2015.


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