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MANILA: The Philippines and Japan are set to sign a key defense pact on Monday that will allow the deployment of troops on each other’s territory.

Japanese Defense Minister Minoru Kihara and Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa will hold high-level talks with their Filipino counterparts Gilberto Teodoro and Enrique Manalo in Manila.

The Philippines and Japan — longtime allies of the United States — have deepened defense ties in the face of an increasingly assertive China.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos will attend the signing of the mutual access agreement (RAA), which the countries began negotiating in November, the Philippine Presidential Communications Office said.

The agreement would provide the legal framework for Japan and the Philippines to send defense personnel to each other’s territory for training and other operations.

The negotiations were “close to completion,” Tokyo’s ambassador to Manila, Kazuya Endo, said in a speech on Thursday, as he signaled “significant developments” in Japan’s supply of defense equipment to the Philippines.

The talks follow escalating confrontations at sea between Chinese and Philippine ships as Beijing steps up efforts to push its claims over nearly the entire South China Sea.

The most serious of a series of incidents occurred on June 17, when Chinese coast guard personnel wielding knives, sticks and an ax surrounded and boarded three Philippine navy boats during a resupply mission to the Second Thomas Shoal of the Spratly Islands.

A Filipino sailor lost a thumb in the collision.

Tokyo and Beijing are also at loggerheads over disputed islands in the East China Sea controlled by Japan.

The RAA was important because it would allow the Philippines “to improve our interoperability with like-minded partners,” said Manila-based geopolitical analyst Don McLain Gill.

“This would also complement what we are trying to do in terms of enhancing our security partnerships across the US hub and spoke network.”

Washington has strengthened its network of alliances in the Asia-Pacific region to counter China’s growing military power and influence, which Chinese officials have said is a US effort to create a “NATO” in the region.

Leaders from Japan, the Philippines and the United States held their first trilateral summit in April to strengthen defense ties in Washington.

It followed four-way military exercises that included Australia in the South China Sea, drawing Beijing closer.

The Philippines has been a linchpin in US efforts to build an arc of alliances due to its position in the South China Sea and its proximity to Taiwan, which China claims as its own.

Philippine support would be crucial to the United States in the event of any conflict.

Japan, wary of possible future changes in US policy in the region, was also looking to “play a bigger role” as an independent and stabilizing force, analyst Gill said.

Tokyo has signed similar reciprocal access agreements with Britain and Australia in recent years.

The Philippines has equivalent pacts with the United States and Australia and plans to pursue one with France.

Japan, which invaded and occupied the Philippines during World War II, is a leading provider of overseas development assistance to the country and also a supplier of security equipment.

“The Japanese would like to impress upon the Americans that Japan is the linchpin of the US security presence, the military presence here in the region, and of course the most reliable ally of the United States,” said Renato Cruz De Castro, a professor of International. studies at De La Salle University in Manila.

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