A Japanese submarine, along with two guided-missile destroyers, has docked at a Philippine port near the South China Sea, where there is a territorial dispute with China.
Japanese submarine Oyashio and destroyers JS Ariake and JS Setogiri arrived on Sunday at the Subic Bay, a former US military base 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of the Philippines’ capital, Manila.
“The visit is a manifestation of a sustained promotion of regional peace and stability and enhancement of maritime cooperation between neighboring navies,” Philippine Navy spokesman, Lued Lincuna, said, referring to the navies of Japan and the Philippines.
The visit at the port of call came on the eve of 12-day military drills between the United States and the Philippines, which will begin on Monday.
While China has warned other countries against any action that could harm China’s “sovereignty” over the South China Sea, the US and the Philippines insist that the war games are not explicitly aimed at China.
The Philippines is preparing to host US troops in at least five military bases, including one facing disputed islands in the South China Sea, under an agreement with Washington.
Manila is also seeking to strengthen ties with Tokyo as tensions mount over the disputed sea.
In February, Tokyo agreed to provide the Philippines with military hardware, including anti-submarine reconnaissance aircraft and radar technology.
China claims sovereignty over almost the whole of the South China Sea, which is also claimed in part by Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines. The waters are believed to sit atop vast reserves of oil and gas.
The dispute has at times drawn in extra-territorial countries — particularly the US — which have more often than not sided with China’s rivals.
Recently, the US has increased its presence in the Asia-Pacific region through its so-called pivot strategy, which critics denounce as a provocative policy.
Beijing accuses Washington of meddling in regional issues and deliberately stirring up tensions in the South China Sea.
The US, in turn, accuses China of carrying out what it calls a land reclamation program in the South China Sea by building artificial islands in the disputed areas.