07 Agustus 2015
Japan wants to give planes to the Philippines to use to patrol the South China Sea, sources say. (photo : thomasphoto)
Tokyo is looking to offer Manila three Beechcraft TC-90 King Air planes that could be fitted with basic surface and air surveillance radar, four sources with knowledge of the matter said.
The sources said talks within the Japanese government were preliminary and would need to overcome legal hurdles.
Japan has yet to formally propose the planes as an alternative to the more sophisticated Lockheed Martin P3-C aircraft that Manila wants to track Chinese submarine activity, they added.
Senior Philippine military and defence officials in Manila said they had not heard about the possible donation of the twin-turboprop TC-90 aircraft, which Japan uses to train military pilots.
"The Philippines doesn't have enough aircraft to conduct regular patrols over the South China Sea," one of the sources in Japan said, declining to be identified because he was not authorised to talk to the media.
China's defence ministry expressed concern about the plan.
"We hope that military cooperation between the relevant countries can benefit regional peace and stability, rather than the opposite," it said in a statement.
Donating aircraft, even small planes, would represent a military upgrade for the Philippines, which has only a handful of fixed-wing planes it can deploy on maritime patrols.
Tokyo has no claims in the South China Sea, but is worried about Beijing's construction of seven artificial islands in the waterway's Spratly archipelago, which will extend Chinese military reach into sea lanes through which much of Japan's ship-borne trade passes.
Concerns over the islands have dominated regional meetings in Kuala Lumpur this week between South-East Asia and countries including Japan, China and the United States.
Equipping Manila with maritime-capable patrol planes would dovetail with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe's more muscular security agenda but likely anger China, which has repeatedly accused Japan of interfering in the South China Sea dispute.
A spokesman for Japan's ministry of defence said working level talks had been set up to explore possible cooperation in defence equipment with the Philippines but that there was no "concrete plan" to give Manila the TC-90s.
Philippine defence minister Voltaire Gazmin said he was unaware of any Japanese plan to supply the aircraft.
Top Philippine generals said they were also unaware of any proposal but welcomed the growing security cooperation with Japan.