Japan has vowed to assist the Philippines in strengthening maritime security as tensions with China escalated throughout the Asia Pacific region.

The two countries have signed an agreement that would see the sales of 10 multi-role response vessels as well as maritime communication equipment to the Philippines in a meeting between newly appointed Japanese foreign minister Kumio Kishida and his counterpart, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, in Manila.

“The acquisition of multi-role response vessels is undergoing serious consideration. There is also regular exchange of views and dialogue between officials of the two countries on maritime and ocean affairs,” del Rosario said.

The vessels are expected to be delivered in the next 18 months and will be used by the Philippine Coast Guard to patrol disputed territories in the South China Sea, where China claims vast parts of the waters.

The meeting was aimed at bolstering economic, political, and military ties between the two countries, particularly “on the political security front” amid the changing “strategic environment in the region”.

After Kishida’s visit, Del Rosario reiterated that the Aquino administration supports the rearming of Japan, saying that Asia needs a “military stronger Japan” to counterbalance against an “increasingly assertive China”.