Manila: Japan has intensified efforts to join multilateral naval exercises with the United States and the Philippines after China announced plans to develop search and rescue facilities on seven reefs and shoals it has enhanced in the South China Sea, senior Philippine officials and analysts said.

Philippines’ Armed Forces chief General Hernando Iriberri and Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said their meeting with Japan’s Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano, head of Japan’s Self-Defence Forces, focused on discussions of future joint-war games between Japan and Philippines Marines involving amphibious operations and landing exercises.

“We welcome the interest of Admiral Kawano to hold future joint-war games between Japan and Philippines Marines,” said Gazmin.

This could “really lead to multilateral Japan-US-Philippines naval exercises,” a military analyst told Gulf News.

Japan also wanted sharing of information on the South China Sea, between the Philippines and Japan, said Gazmin, adding that Japan has already joined a multilateral US-Japan-Philippines humanitarian assistance and relief-disaster exercises in the Subic Bay starting August 14.

Looking forward, Gazmin said, “A Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between Japan and the Philippines is needed to conduct such activities.” He did not give details on this plan.

Kawano also assured Philippine defence officials that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will continue pushing for the passage of a national security legislation to allow the Japanese Self Defence Forces expand security activities with the Philippines, said Gazmin, about Japan’s reboot.

Initial joint military activities between Japan and the Philippines are based on existing Memorandum of understanding on defence and cooperation exchanges. “We focused during the meeting on how we can further strengthen the relationship, (and) what should be our next steps,” said Philippines’ Armed Forces chief General Hernando Iriberri.

Reacting to the statement Zhao Jianhua, China’s ambassador to the Philippines, that China’s development of facilities on enhanced shoals and reefs in the South China Sea, Gazmin said it could result in a “tipping point of an irreversible crisis (in the contested sea-lane).”

Defence spokesman Peter Paul Galvez asked, “For whom are the search and rescue facilities for?.”

The answer could come from Admiral Charles Williams, commander of US. Seventh Fleet’s Task Force Rear 73, who assessed the impact of Japan’s participation in the multilateral US-Japan-Philippines humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercises in Subic Bay, off a former US Naval Base in Olongapo, Zambales, central Luzon.

Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercises are now part of annual regular joint war-games between the US and the Philippines. They are part of the US policy to rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region, “a great avenue towards increasing maritime stability and security in this region,” explained Williams

Kawano’s arrival in the Philippines “speaks volumes about their (Japan’s) commitment to the region and their commitment to being part of multilateral engagements,” Williams added.

The United States, Japan, and the Philippines have raised concerns over China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea.

China, Taiwan, and Vietnam claim the whole of the South China Sea and parts of the Spratly Archipelago. Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines claim their respective 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zones (EEZ) in the disputed sea land where $5 billion (Dh18.36 billion) cargo for international trade passes annually.

Japan and China have overlapping marmite conflict in the East China Sea.