Exclusive: Japan seeks Southeast Asia
clout with chopper parts for Philippines military - sources
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[August 10, 2017]
By Tim Kelly and Nobuhiro Kubo
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's army will give
thousands of helicopter parts to keep Philippine military choppers
airborne, helping Tokyo gain clout with Manila in a contest with China
to secure influence over the strategic South China Sea nation, four
Military diplomacy is a new means for Japan to confound China's bid for
control in the bitterly contested South China Sea as Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe seeks a regional military role amid a retreat from decades of
The pact could be the first in a series of similar deals as Tokyo cranks
up defense diplomacy with Southeast Asian nations eager for hand-me-down
patrol aircraft, ships and other military equipment.
"This is a demonstration of the robust strategic partnership and
cooperation of the two allies," a senior Philippine Air Force commander
told Reuters, adding that Japan would deliver around 40,000 parts under
The value of the parts could not be determined.
The sources, who have knowledge of talks between the two countries,
asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to talk to
The supply agreement will be Japan's first military aid deal since
lawmakers scrapped a rule in June barring giveaways of surplus military
kit to other countries.
"We are looking at what we will do with our spare parts, but have
nothing concrete we can discuss," said a spokesman for the procurement
agency of Japan's defense ministry.
"In order to strengthen national security we want to push ahead with
defense equipment cooperation."
Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have already asked about taking
Japan's submarine-hunting P3-C maritime patrol aircraft, made by
Lockheed Martin Corp, as they are replaced by Kawasaki Heavy Industries
P-1 planes, two of the sources said.
"There has been some preliminary discussion," said one of the sources.
Japan worries that Beijing could blunt opposition to its territorial
assertiveness in the South China Sea with arms sales and development aid
to countries surrounding the busy waterway.
About $5 trillion of ship-borne trade passes through the sea each year,
much of it touching Japanese ports.
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Philippine Air Force pilots stand next to newly acquired
AgustaWestland AW109E helicopters during a ceremony at the Villamor
Air Base in Pasay city, metro Manila December 5, 2015. REUTERS/Romeo
The aircraft parts for the Philippines are meant for workhorse UH-1
utility helicopters that can be used for transport or deployed as
airborne gunships, the sources said.
Japan's Ground Self-Defence Force (GSDF) retired older H versions of
its Vietnam-era Hueys in 2012, after four decades of use, but
retained their spare parts.
Japan earlier agreed to supply the Philippines with three
second-hand Beechcraft TC-90 King Air patrol planes, in a deal
structured as a lease arrangement, under the old rule.
Other initiatives by Japan to build military ties include a four-day
South China Sea tour aboard its navy flagship, the Izumo helicopter
carrier, by military officers of the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations (ASEAN) in June.
Military officials of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines,
Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam also observed disaster relief drills
Abe's government believes Japan is better placed than Washington to
woo Southeast Asia away from Chinese influence, as it is free from
the rules forbidding the United States to fully engage with
non-democratic regimes, such as Thailand and Vietnam.
Conditions set by the United States forced the Philippines to turn
to China and Russia for arms supplies, the Southeast Asian nation's
defense minister has said.
China has offered to donate $14 million worth of military hardware
to the Philippines, besides a soft loan for $500 million in Chinese
(Reporting by Tim Kelly and Nobuhiro Kubo in TOKYO; Additional
reporting by Manuel Mogato in MANILA; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
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