Amid rising tensions in the disputed South China Sea, the latest in a series of provocative joint military exercises took place between the Philippines and Japan. This despite the fact that Japan doesn’t even have an official claim in the region. As part of their first joint naval exercises, two Japanese destroyers participated in a maritime safety exercise with a Philippine warship. The drills occurred off the coast of Manila, in the waters of the South China Sea. The exercises coincide with Japan’s plan to coordinate coastguard search and rescue operations with Vietnam this week.

 The South China Sea is a hotly contested region. While China stakes a claim on roughly 90% of the area, there are disputed, overlapping claims by Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, and Malaysia. Japan has no official territorial claim in the sea, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indicated his nation’s interest in ensuring free travel through the region. Nearly $5 trillion in trade passes through the South China Sea each year. The exercises could be meant as a clear signal to Beijing. MORE