Japanese submarine to visit PHL, Vietnam

Posted on March 17, 2016

A JAPANESE submarine will make a port call in the Philippines for the first time in 15 years and visit Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Ba, Japan’s navy said.

The announcement came days after China accused its Asian rival of interfering in the South China Sea.

Japan, which occupied the Philippines and Vietnam during World War II, is now strengthening relations. All three countries share growing concerns about China’s increasing military muscle amid a series of maritime disputes.

China claims almost all the South China Sea. It is also embroiled in a separate row with Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea that has seen relations sour badly in recent years.

Tensions in the South China Sea -- through which one-third of the world’s oil passes -- have mounted in recent months since China transformed contested reefs into artificial islands capable of supporting military facilities.

Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Taiwan also claim all or part of the Spratlys chain in the Sea, while Vietnam and Taiwan have rival claims with China in the Paracels chain there.

The Japanese submarine Oyashio will visit Subic Bay in the Philippines for annual open sea drills, a spokesman for Japan’s Maritime Staff Office confirmed to AFP. Two escort ships will also subsequently visit Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam.

The exercise, joined by some 500 personnel including officer candidates, is scheduled from Saturday through April 27.

It will be the first call at a Philippine port by a Japanese submarine since 2001, the naval spokesman said.

Beijing accused Tokyo of interfering in the South China Sea after Manila said it would lease five Japanese military planes.

President Benigno S. C. Aquino III said last week Manila would lease five TC-90 training aircraft from Japan to “help our navy patrol our territory,” pointing to the disputed South China Sea in particular.

China immediately reacted, saying it was “firmly opposed” to challenges to its sovereignty and security and would “remain on high alert.”

In a related development, the first phase of the annual joint military exercise between Philippines and the United States started on Wednesday, with this stage focusing on joint community work and medical outreach in Luzon and the Visayas.

According to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), US and Filipino troops conducted preliminary work on five school buildings and on community medical work in Panay Island and in Palawan in preparation for the ‘Balikatan Exercise 2016’ (BK 16) later in April.

This marks the 32nd exercise named aptly to mean “shoulder-to-shoulder,” and marked by bilateral military training exercises alongside humanitarian assistance, maritime law enforcement, and environmental protection.

BK 16 is scheduled to take place on April 4 until April 15 in select areas in Panay, Palawan, Tarlac, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, and Zambales.

“One of the main operations for this year’s exercise will be the implementation of a joint rapid reaction force as part of the distributed operations in the vicinity of Panay, demonstrating the partnered capability in rapid response,” the AFP said.

Several observer nations have been invited to observe the military activities including Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, India, Japan, South Korea, and Timor-Leste.

BK 16 this year comes in a time of tension over the disputed South China Sea. -- AFP, with Alden M. Monzon