Filipino Marcos open to troop pact with Japan

MANILA (Reuters) – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr said on Sunday he sees no reason why the Philippines should not have a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with Japan if it would increase maritime security and provide better protection for Filipino fishermen.

However, Marcos also told reporters he would exercise caution over a potential deal with Tokyo “because we don’t want to be provocative.”

Marcos’ first visit to Japan since taking office came after he recently granted the United States access to more military bases in the Philippines under a VFA, a move China said undermined regional stability and increased tensions. The VFA provides rules for rotating thousands of US troops in and out of the Philippines for exercises.

“If it’s going to help the Philippines, for example, protect our fishermen, protect our marine area… I don’t see why we shouldn’t adopt it (VFA),” Marcos told reporters before returning home Sunday, according to the official Protocol.

Marcos was in Japan on a five-day visit to forge closer security ties with Tokyo, which in December announced its biggest military buildup since World War II, fueled by concerns about aggressive Chinese actions in the region.

Marcos and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida have reached an agreement that will allow their armed forces to work together during disaster relief, an agreement seen as a step towards a broader pact that could allow countries to station forces on each other’s soil .

“I always think about the need to protect our fishermen. We need to show clearly that we are patrolling our waters and making sure our marine area is clearly recognized,” Marcos said.

The Philippines has a VFA with the United States, while Tokyo has VFAs with Australia and Britain, and is also home to the largest concentration of US forces overseas.

Japan held military exercises with the United States and the Philippines as recently as October, and its military presence in the Philippines could help counter Chinese influence in the South China Sea, much of which Beijing claims, including territory Manila claims as its own considered.

Kishida said the Philippines and Japan agreed to create a framework that would “strengthen and smooth the process of conducting joint exercises.”

In an interview with Nikkei on Sunday, Marcos said his country could be drawn into a possible cross-strait conflict because of its proximity to the self-governing island, which China sees as a breakaway province.

“When we look at the situation in the region, particularly the tensions in the Taiwan Strait, we can see from our geographic location that it is very difficult to envision a scenario where there should actually be conflict in that region of The Philippines will not interfere in any way,” said Marcos.

(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Ed Davies)


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