A Maritime Self-Defense Force flotilla of three ships arrived in the Philippines early Sunday on a goodwill visit — the first to include a Japanese submarine in 15 years — amid China’s growing assertiveness in the region.
The training submarine Oyashio, accompanied by the destroyers Ariake and Setogiri, made a port call at Subic Bay, home of a former U.S. naval base, ahead of planned open sea drills. Some 500 Japanese personnel, including 55 officer candidates, are taking part in the confidence-building exercise.
Philippine Navy public affairs officer Capt. Lued Lincuna said the three MSDF vessels would be staying in Subic Bay until Wednesday.
The two destroyers are then scheduled to continue on to Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay for a similar visit. The trip to Cam Ranh Bay will take the two vessels through the South China Sea, where the Philippines, Vietnam and three other nations are involved in simmering territorial disputes with China.
The visit to the Philippines comes ahead of a much-anticipated arbitration case concerning the legality of China’s “nine-dash line” claim over the South China Sea. Manila expects the court to hand down a ruling before May.
…Beijing lays claim to most of the South China Sea, through which $5 billion in global trade passes each year. It has recently constructed artificial islands in the waters — some home to military-grade airfields, radar systems and weapons — riling neighboring claimants.
While not a claimant in the South China Sea, Tokyo has been embroiled in a fight with Beijing over the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, which China calls Diaoyu, in the East China Sea.
The Japanese decision to send the three vessels to the Philippines, one of the most vocal critics of China’s massive land-reclamation projects in the region, has drawn fire from Beijing. Top Chinese officials have slammed Japan’s push to shore up smaller regional claimants to the waters, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei saying last month that Beijing was keeping a watchful eye on Tokyo’s moves in the area.
Full article: Japanese submarine, destroyers arrive in Philippines for port call near disputed South China Sea waters (The Japan Times)