The Philippines is looking into a more comprehensive defence pact with Japan that will allow Manila to seek Tokyo's aid in the event of an attack, an arrangement that analysts say may lead to a "new Cold War" in the South China Sea.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda told reporters yesterday that "we are looking into those arrangements", when asked whether the Philippines would ask for Japan's help should its forces come under attack.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday announced a re-interpretation of the country's pacifist Constitution that will free its military to play a more assertive role for the first time in more than 60 years.
"I think everyone who has a stake in regional stability would certainly support any action that would move towards promoting peace in the region. Clearly, our belief is that Japan, by revisiting its Constitution, enables it to meet its international obligations, that is - in the case of the South China Sea - to promote and to ensure peace and stability in the region," Mr Lacierda said.
During his one-day working visit to Japan last month, Philippine President Benigno Aquino backed Mr Abe's plan to expand the scope of Japan's armed forces, highlighting a shift in attitude in the region as Asia adjusts to an increasingly assertive China pushing its territorial claims.
"If Abe will have his way, he will establish a military alliance with the Philippines and Vietnam, a Tokyo- Manila-Hanoi axis," said political analyst Alex Magno. Mr Magno added that the Philippines would want "something that looks like our mutual defence treaty with the United States".
That treaty, signed in 1951, requires the US to come to the Philippines' aid if it is attacked.
Although US President Barack Obama had said the treaty was "iron clad", he did not say outright that US troops would come to the Philippines' aid if China attacks reefs and islets in the South China Sea that the Philippines occupies.
Analysts do not expect the US to go that far, considering its huge economic ties with China, and the war fatigue that has settled among Americans after decades of costly wars in the Middle East.
University of the Philippines international studies professor Amado Mendoza Jr said Japan would be less ambiguous.
"Japan will commit to the defence of sea lanes. They have blue-water capability. They have air power. I see a situation where they have convoys patrolling the South China Sea with the Philippine Navy," he said.
That, he said, "will precipitate a new Cold War in the South China Sea".
China lays claim to nearly all of the South China Sea, creating conflict with the Philippines and Vietnam. Other claimants are Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
Mr Magno said it is unlikely that China will be intimidated by a Tokyo- Manila-Hanoi axis.
"The Philippines is betting too much on its own mutual defence treaty with Japan. It's almost delusional to think that we can actually enhance our own defence posture by relying on Japan," he said.
This article was first published on July 03, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.