Japanese submarine to call at port in Philippines

It will also visit Vietnam for first time as tensions with Beijing over S. China Sea rise

TOKYO • A Japanese submarine will make a port call in the Philippines for the first time in 15 years and visit Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay for the first time, 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 strengthening relations with them. 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 parts 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 and two escort vessels will visit Subic Bay in the Philippines for annual open sea drills, a spokesman for Japan's Maritime Staff Office confirmed to AFP yesterday.

The 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, while the visit to Cam Ranh Bay will mark a first, the naval spokesman said.

Beijing accused Tokyo of interfering in the South China Sea after Philippine President Benigno Aquino last week said 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.

The two giant neighbours may see more tension in their spat over islands in the East China Sea.

Meanwhile, Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) yesterday urged the government to consider seeking international arbitration over Beijing's drilling activities in the disputed East China Sea, mirroring similar action by the Philippines over the South China Sea.

"Everyone has agreed that we should not shy away from taking the matter to an international arbitration court and starting preparation for that step should be considered," Mr Yoshiaki Harada, head of an LDP panel on resources development in the East China Sea, said after a party meeting on the resolution.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2016, with the headline 'Japanese submarine to call at port in Philippines'. Print Edition | Subscribe