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The Philippines’ historical choice of the United States as a strategic partner is deeply rooted in pivotal moments that have shaped their enduring relationship. From the annals of history, the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898 marked a turning point, leading to the collapse of Spanish colonial rule and the subsequent 48-year period of American influence until the Philippines gained independence in 1946. The influx of Americans, including retired soldiers and military personnel, showcased an early connection that expanded with the arrival of American teachers under the 1901 Education Act. The shared history is evident in the strong people-to-people ties, with over four million Filipino-Americans in the U.S. and nearly 300,000 U.S. citizens calling the Philippines home.

The bilateral bond is further strengthened by common democratic values, emphasized through collaborative efforts on human rights, labor rights, and the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951. This commitment extends to economic ties, with two way trade and investment activities exceeding $18.9 billion in 2020. Recent developments, such as President Biden’s initiative to send a trade and investment group to the Philippines, demonstrate a forward-looking approach to encourage U.S. companies to invest in various sectors.

The multifaceted partnership also extends to health security, environmental protection, and clean energy initiatives, highlighting a shared commitment to addressing global challenges. The U.S. contribution of over $135 million in development assistance, including substantial COVID-19 aid and vaccine donations, showcases a cooperative effort to enhance health infrastructure and community resilience.

The Philippines’ preference of the US is underscored via a shared vision for the destiny. Collaborative tasks, such as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity and the web hosting of the Indo-Pacific Business Forum, exemplify joint efforts to sell financial boom and local stability. The decision to create a physical Open RAN Interoperability Lab in Manila and strengthen ties in space situational awareness further aligns with the Philippines’ strategic alignment with the U.S.

In essence, the Philippines’ choice of the United States is a culmination of historical ties, shared values, and a mutual commitment to addressing contemporary challenges. This enduring relationship encompasses diverse aspects, from cultural exchanges and economic cooperation to joint efforts in health security and environmental sustainability, reflecting a strategic alliance built on mutual respect and shared aspirations.

Evolution of the U.S.-Philippines Strategic Alliance

The United States and the Philippines had a strong alliance during the Cold War, but its importance declined after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Philippine Senate rejected renewing the 1947 Military Bases Agreement in 1991, leading to the departure of U.S. forces. Although the 1951 Mutual Defence Treaty remained, it was unclear if there were any external threats to defend against. However, tensions with China over the South China Sea reignited the importance of the alliance. Despite challenges, the relationship between the two nations improved. In 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte questioned the alliance, but his outreach to China did not yield substantial results. Pressure from within the Philippine government and armed forces kept the visiting forces agreement alive. The U.S. clarified its commitment to defending the Philippines in the South China Sea, leading to a positive shift in the alliance.

“There are more than 280 Islands in the South China Sea, which need to be divided and if every one of them becomes at crisis, then we are going to get the Thucydides Trap,” Henery Kissenger, World Order

In 2021, the defence secretaries of both countries outlined steps to modernize and strengthen the alliance, focusing on maritime security, military modernization, defence guidelines, and infrastructure projects. Efforts to enhance the alliance are underway, including a new maritime security dialogue and increased financial support. The alliance is now entering a new phase of cooperation, where both nations are discussing their expectations of each other in the event of a Taiwan contingency. The alliance is also deepening connections with other regional security networks like the U.S.-Australia-Japan trilateral alliance. The Philippines is strengthening its ties with Japan via protection agreements, and future joint sporting events with U.S., Australian, and Japanese participation are at the horizon. The U.S.-Philippines alliance has hastily evolved over the past 18 months. In April 2023, America and the Philippines completed their annual army sporting events referred to as Balikatan. These exercises involved about 18,000 soldiers from both countries, making them the largest in the 38-year history of these drills.

Counterterrorism Cooperation

From 2002 onwards, the U.S. supported the Philippines against various terrorist groups and their outfits. U.S. aid included troops, military aid, and intelligence sharing. The Philippines implemented antiterrorism measures, engaged in peace talks, and maintained a strong partnership with the U.S. for law enforcement and counterterrorism.

U.S.-Philippines Relations and Shared Interests

In October 2022, the Biden administration released its National Security Strategy (NSS), which highlighted the Indo-Pacific region as a vital centre of global politics. China is seen as the main competitor capable of reshaping the international order.

As Kurt Campbell and Ely Ratner stated, “Washington now faces its most dynamic and formidable competitor in modern history”.

To preserve a free, open, prosperous, and secure world order, the U.S. reaffirmed commitments to its allies, including the Philippines.  The NSS offers an opportunity for the U.S. and its allies, including the Philippines, to influence China’s behaviour. Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and capacity-building are vital aspects of this alliance. The NSS highlights the critical decade ahead, urging the Philippines to work closely with the U.S. in alliance management, promoting shared interests, and navigating nuances in their stances on Taiwan and the South China Sea.

Evolving U.S.-Philippine Relations under President Marcos Jr

Since President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. took office in the Philippines, there have been numerous activities at the diplomatic front with the United States. There seems a return to normalcy and warmth in the relationship with the U.S. According to experts, the Philippines is now interested not only in security assurances from the U.S. but also in the economic role that the U.S. can play in the Philippines. President Marcos visited Washington and, along with U.S. President Joe Biden, released the Bilateral Defense Guidelines outlining security priorities. This busy engagement between the two countries indicates that there are overdue matters being addressed. Under the previous administration, the Philippines shifted its foreign policy towards Beijing as it pursued its economic goals. However, experts highlight that the U.S.-Philippine alliance remained crucial to the country’s foreign and security policy. While the previous government had a flexible approach in dealing with China, it didn’t bring significant economic and development cooperation. President Marcos Jr.’s administration seems more willing to acknowledge China’s challenges to Philippine sovereignty and rights. The alliance with the U.S. includes intelligence sharing, cyber security and defense, and a stronger stance on territorial disputes in the South China Sea. While the Philippines and the United States improved their relationship, other groups like AUKUS (Australia, the United Kingdom, and the US) have also become closer in the Indo-Pacific region. The Philippines supports AUKUS, especially as Australia plans to get nuclear-powered submarines and strengthen its military.

Conclusion

The Philippines holds a vital position in the Indo-Pacific region and plays a crucial role in U.S. national interests in the area. As the oldest ally in Southeast Asia, the Philippines shares important security connections with the U.S. and is a significant non-NATO strategic partner. Additionally, both countries engage in substantial bilateral trade and investment. The U.S. government’s strategic focus in the region, coupled with the longstanding close relationship between the two nations, present valuable opportunities to promote democratic values, open trade, and support the Philippines’ journey toward self-reliance. The Philippines’ government efforts align with key U.S. initiatives like the Indo-Pacific Transparency Initiative, Infrastructure Transaction Advisory Network, Digital Connectivity and Cyber security Partnership, and Asia Enhancing Development and Growth through Energy. The shared goals are the reason of U.S.-Philippines Indo-Pacific partnership. Further the help of US government addresses the ongoing structural challenges and the current economic challenges in the Philippines. These strategic priorities are making the Philippines to become a most trusted partner of US in the Indo-Pacific region.

Asia

Can the Philippines’ Navy Counter Harassment in the West Philippine Sea?

Can the Philippines' Navy Counter Harassment in the West Philippine Sea

The Philippines has recently expressed grave concern regarding the reported harassment of its fishing vessels by two Chinese coastguard ships within the contentious South China Sea. This incident took place within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, specifically at the Iroquois Reef, on April 4th.

This event doesn’t come as a surprise, given the history of Chinese activity in the South China Sea. In recent months, a series of maritime incidents have occurred between the Philippines and China, often involving the deployment of water cannons. These encounters frequently occur near the contested reefs within the expansive and resource-abundant South China Sea.

The question remains: Can the Philippine Navy respond to this harassment? Join us for some brainstorming and show your support by subscribing.

An Unfounded Claim

In a statement issued by Jay Tarriela, spokesperson for the Philippine Coast Guard, strong condemnation was directed towards the actions of the Chinese coastguard, which were characterized as intimidation tactics. Tarriela outlined that the coastguard vessels allegedly engaged in provocative maneuvers, including the simulation of activating their water cannons, thereby posing a direct threat to Filipino fishermen operating in the vicinity.

Tarriela articulated the Philippine perspective, attributing this perceived aggression to what he described as China’s “greed” and “unfounded claim” over the disputed maritime territory. He underscored the preposterous nature of China’s claim, labeling it an “imaginary dashed line” that encroaches upon the sovereign rights of the Philippines within its exclusive economic zone.

Tarriela further emphasized that Rozul Reef, known by its Filipino designation, falls distinctly within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, situated approximately 128 nautical miles off the coast of Palawan. Additionally, he highlighted the Philippines’ customary reference to the South China Sea area within its EEZ as the West Philippine Sea.

In the wake of these serious allegations, there has been no immediate response from China, the nation asserting extensive sovereignty claims over nearly the entire expanse of the South China Sea. The absence of a formal rejoinder from Beijing leaves the matter fraught with tension and uncertainty, underscoring the intricate geopolitical dynamics at play in the region.

Philippines’ Countermeasures

Since assuming office in 2022, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines has actively pursued warmer relations with the United States and other Western nations while adopting a firm stance against what he perceives as Chinese aggression.

In a notable statement last month, President Marcos Jr. declared that the Philippines would undertake appropriate countermeasures in response to China’s actions, particularly following the latest altercation that resulted in injuries to Filipino servicemen and damage to vessels. This resolute stance highlights Philippines’ commitment to safeguarding its territorial integrity and asserting its rights in the face of perceived threats in the region.

In a bold move aimed at countering China’s increasing assertiveness in the region, the Philippines is conducting joint naval and air drills with key allies, including the U.S., Japan, and Australia, in the disputed area. This decision shows the Philippines’ commitment to strengthening ties with its partners as a strategic response to regional challenges.

Defense chiefs from the four nations expressed their collective dedication to reinforcing regional and international cooperation in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific. The upcoming drills serve as a tangible demonstration of this commitment, showcasing the unity and resolve of the participating countries. Moreover, Japan’s embassy in Manila indicated that the exercises would encompass “anti-submarine warfare training,” highlighting the strategic importance of the Balikatan exercises.

Strength of the Philippines’ Armed Forces

With repeated encounters with China in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and the construction of military bases on artificial islands, the Armed Forces of the Philippines grapple with the challenge of being underequipped, according to experts. The Philippine Navy has lagged behind many of its Southeast Asian peers for decades. The 2012 Scarborough Shoal Incident, which saw China effectively occupy a feature within the Philippine EEZ, spurred Manila to revive its military modernization efforts. The new Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Act aimed to bolster the country’s capabilities and deter further encroachment in the South China Sea. However, funding shortages and the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the Navy’s procurement plans, leaving crucial modernization initiatives incomplete. In response to rising tensions, Manila has embarked on a comprehensive revision of its defense strategy, placing a renewed emphasis on naval and air forces. The new strategy envisions the AFP operating offshore in the EEZ and beyond, with the Philippine Navy tasked with securing the country’s vast maritime domain. From patrols in the EEZ to acquiring high-end anti-air and submarine warfare capabilities, the Philippine Navy stands poised to defend the nation’s sovereignty and protect its interests in the face of external threats.

Upcoming Procurements

As the Philippines navigates these challenging waters, the path forward involves a mix of strategic investments and international cooperation to safeguard its maritime interests.

The upcoming procurements are vital to bolstering the Philippines’ ability to secure its waters and surrounding seas. Integration of these acquisitions into the overarching maritime strategy is paramount. Other maritime security organizations, like the Philippine Coast Guard, can alleviate some of the pressure on the Philippine Navy, allowing it to focus on conventional warfighting. Equipped with modern patrol vessels from Japan and France, the Philippine Coast Guard plays a crucial role in protecting Filipino fishermen and enforcing maritime laws. The Philippine Navy’s procurement plans include submarines, frigates, and offshore patrol vessels to bolster its maritime capabilities. Amidst growing tensions in the region, there’s a renewed focus on modernization and strategic alignment with allies like the United States. With a ‘good enough’ defense plan, the Philippines can leverage its partnership with the U.S. under the Mutual Defense Treaty, allowing for a more comprehensive approach to regional security.

The military expansion planned by the Filipino administration is probably the biggest in their history. This can be worrisome for the Chinese ships in the West Philippine Sea. Deploying military assets in these waters not only serves the defense purposes of the country but also provides other strategic gains.

Can China Stand Against These Alliances?

China’s naval prowess has reached unprecedented heights, boasting the world’s largest fleet with over 340 warships. Once perceived as a Greenwater Navy confined to coastal waters, Beijing’s recent shipbuilding endeavors have unveiled grander ambitions. In recent years, China has rolled out formidable assets, including guided missile destroyers, amphibious assault ships, and aircraft carriers capable of projecting power across vast distances, thousands of miles from Beijing. Western marine security experts, alongside the Philippines and the United States, have sounded the alarm over China’s maritime militia. Allegedly comprising hundreds of vessels, this militia serves as an unofficial force advancing Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and beyond. Most concerning is China’s concentrated military buildup along the Spratly and Paracel Island chains. Through extensive land reclamation efforts, Beijing has significantly expanded its presence, adding over 3,200 acres of land to its occupied outposts. These outposts, equipped with airfields, berthing areas, and resupply facilities, facilitate persistent Chinese military and paramilitary activities in the region. Beijing’s military construction spree began in earnest in 2014, with massive dredging operations transforming reefs into fortified military bases. According to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, China’s fortified outposts, boasting military-grade airfields and advanced weaponry, pose a significant threat to free movement in the area. As tensions escalate, the U.S. and its allies remain vigilant, wary of the potential for these outposts to serve as strategic chokepoints, undermining regional stability.

Should We Expect a War?

Amidst the chaos in the South China Sea, insights from a Chinese think tank shed light on the potential for armed conflict between China and the Philippines. According to the think tank’s analysis, the risk of immediate war remains low due to several critical factors. The Philippines lacks the capability to confront China alone, and the U.S. has shown reluctance to directly intervene in South China Sea disputes. Another Beijing think tank reinforces this stance, emphasizing that the conflict in the South China Sea is unlikely in the foreseeable future. China recognizes the formidable alliances that are arrayed against it, including the United States and its allies, such as Japan, Australia, and the Philippines. China understands the risks of engaging in a war with the U.S. and its allies, considering the military capabilities and collective strength they possess.” As tensions persist, diplomatic efforts remain crucial in navigating the complex geopolitical landscape of the South China Sea.

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Geo-Politics

Philippines, US Launch Mid Range Missile System in Balikatan

Philippines, US Launch Mid Range Missile System in Balikatan

Introduction

Against the backdrop of escalating tensions in the South China Sea, the US and the Philippines have initiated massive joint military exercises, Balikatan, involving thousands of military personnel over a three-week period. This exercise showcases the Philippines’ advanced military systems, including missile frigates, fighter jets, support aircraft, and Black Hawk helicopters. Notably, the naval segment extends beyond the 12-nautical-mile limit into the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, signaling a strategic expansion in operational scope. Concurrently, the deployment of the Mid-Range Capability (MRC) missile system by the US to the Indo-Pacific theater, specifically during the Balikatan drills, has elicited strong condemnation from China. The integration of offensive capabilities into joint military exercises highlight broader geopolitical dynamics in the Indo-Pacific region. Let us delve deep into the issue to analyze its broader implications.

Deployment Details

China has condemned the United States for what it perceives as an escalation of military tension by deploying a powerful missile launcher capable of firing missiles up to 1,600 kilometers in range to exercises in the Philippines. The US Army’s Mid-Range Capability (MRC) ground-based missile system, known as the Typhon system, arrives in the wake of heightened tensions following confrontations between Chinese and Philippine vessels in the South China Sea involving water cannons injuring Filipino sailors.

This deployment of the MRC missile system to the Indo-Pacific theater, marking its first-ever appearance in the region, coincides with a series of joint military exercises between the US and the Philippines, including the Balikatan drills. The duration of the Typhon system’s stay in the Philippines has not been disclosed by the US Army, but analysts view its involvement as a strategic signal that offensive weaponry is now positioned within striking distance of Chinese installations in the South China Sea and along the Taiwan Strait.

In response to the deployment, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian expressed concern over increased risks of “misjudgment and miscalculation,” accusing the US of pursuing a “unilateral military advantage” and undermining regional peace and stability. Lin urged the US to respect other countries’ security concerns and refrain from escalating confrontation.

The Standard Missile 6 (SM-6) is an advanced missile system developed by the United States, primarily intended for deployment on US Navy ships. This versatile system is designed for dual-use, capable of engaging both air and surface targets effectively. It holds an extended range compared to its predecessors and utilizes an active radar seeker to track and intercept targets with precision. The SM-6 is equipped to intercept incoming enemy aircraft, including drones and cruise missiles. Furthermore, it can engage surface vessels. Benefitting from networked guidance information, the SM-6 delivers enhanced accuracy, making it a vital asset for naval forces seeking versatile and reliable defense capabilities. The Typhon system is equipped to launch the Standard Missile 6 (SM-6), a ballistic missile defense munition with a range of 370 kilometers (230 miles), and the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile, a cruise missile capable of reaching targets up to 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) away, as per the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

On the other hand, the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) is a long-range cruise missile employed by the US Navy and allied forces for land-based target strikes. Operating at subsonic speeds, the TLAM maintains a low radar cross-section, enhancing its survivability and stealth capabilities. It employs GPS guidance for precise navigation, enabling it to hit specific targets with high accuracy. The TLAM is available in various variants, including nuclear and conventional versions, catering to different operational requirements. Renowned for its effectiveness in long-range strikes, the TLAM has played a pivotal role in various conflicts.

The deployment of the Mid-Range Capability (MRC) missile system to the Indo-Pacific theater represents a historic development, marking the first deployment of this advanced system in the region.

From China’s perspective, the deployment of the MRC system represents a direct challenge to its military capabilities and territorial claims. The presence of land-attack missiles capable of reaching Chinese installations raises Chinese concerns. China has expressed displeasure and accused the US of exacerbating military confrontation in the region through such actions.

Operationally, the system provides a versatile and potent capability for both defensive operations, such as intercepting incoming threats, and offensive operations, including precision strikes against designated targets.

Diplomatically, the deployment of the MRC system has triggered reactions from various regional players. China’s vocal opposition reflects broader concerns about escalating military tensions, while other countries in the region are closely monitoring developments and assessing the potential implications for regional stability.

Increased Risks

China’s response to the deployment of the Mid-Range Capability (MRC) missile system by the United States has been characterized by accusations of “stoking military confrontation.” Beijing has voiced strong opposition to the presence of advanced missile systems in the Indo-Pacific region, viewing them as a provocative move that escalates tensions and undermines regional stability. China perceives such deployments as a direct challenge to its security interests and strategic posture in the South China Sea and surrounding areas.

Firstly, the deployment of offensive weapons capable of reaching Chinese installations raises the stakes and intensifies military competition in the region. This creates a scenario where any perceived provocation or misunderstanding could lead to unintended escalation and conflict. Additionally, the use of advanced missile systems introduces complexities in decision-making during crises, potentially leading to rapid and unforeseen developments that can spiral out of control.

Recent incidents involving dangerous encounters between Chinese and Philippine vessels, including the targeting of Philippine ships with water cannons, pinpoints the volatile nature of maritime disputes in the region. The presence of advanced military capabilities like the MRC system further exacerbates these tensions.

Strategic Significance

The deployment of the Mid-Range Capability (MRC) missile system by the United States to the Philippines holds significant strategic implications, particularly due to the presence of offensive weaponry within striking distance of Chinese installations in the South China Sea and surrounding areas. This deployment signifies a tangible shift in the balance of power and military posture in the region, as it enables the US to project offensive capabilities closer to Chinese territories and maritime claims.

The presence of land-attack missiles such as the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) within striking distance of Chinese installations raises concerns as these missiles have the capability to strike targets on land with precision and effectiveness, posing a direct threat to Chinese military assets and facilities in the South China Sea and beyond.

In the context of joint US-Philippine military exercises, such as the Balikatan drills, the deployment of the MRC missile system assumes added significance. These exercises demonstrate a deepening of defense cooperation between the US and the Philippines, aimed at enhancing their combined military capabilities and interoperability. The Balikatan exercises serve as a platform for joint training and readiness activities, reinforcing the defense posture of both countries and sending a clear signal of deterrence to potential adversaries, including China.

Conclusion

Amidst tensions in the South China Sea, US-Philippines joint exercises, Balikatan, have begun, showcasing advanced military systems and extending naval operations into the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines. Simultaneously, US deployment of the MRC missile system, with SM-6 and TLAM, has drawn China’s ire, escalating regional tensions.

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Asia

North Korea Conducted ‘Super-Large Warhead’ Test

North Korea Conducted 'Super-Large Warhead' Test

North Korea’s recent power test for a “super-large warhead” in a cruise missile and the launch of a new anti-aircraft missile have raised concerns and drawn international attention. The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported the developments, highlighting North Korea’s continued focus on advancing its military capabilities. North Korea’s missile tests serve as a reminder of the persistent challenges in the region’s security landscape.

The Tests

The Missile Administration conducted a warhead test on the Hwasal-1 Ra-3 strategic cruise missile and test-fired the new Pyoljji-1-2 in the Yellow Sea. These activities are part of routine efforts aimed at technological advancement, according to KCNA. The tests are unrelated to the current situation, the report emphasized, indicating that North Korea views them as necessary steps in its military development. By conducting these tests, North Korea aims to showcase its technological prowess and deter potential adversaries, reinforcing its position as a regional military power.

Strategic Implications

The significance of North Korea’s latest tests extends beyond the immediate military capabilities demonstrated. The country’s continued pursuit of advanced missile technology raises concerns among neighboring countries and the international community. The tests highlight North Korea’s commitment to bolstering its military arsenal despite diplomatic efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. Moreover, the tests serve as a signal to the United States and its allies that North Korea remains capable and determined to defend its interests, further complicating efforts to achieve lasting peace and stability in the region.

Regional Dynamics

As North Korea continues to enhance its military capabilities, neighboring countries are compelled to reassess their defense strategies and strengthen cooperation to maintain stability in the region. Furthermore, the tests may lead to increased military expenditures and arms build-up in the region, further exacerbating security dilemmas and undermining efforts for peaceful coexistence.

Domestic Considerations

The timing and nature of North Korea’s missile tests also carry domestic implications. Leader Kim Jong Un’s regime often employs displays of military strength to rally public support. By showcasing advancements in missile technology, North Korea seeks to project strength and resilience, reinforcing its position domestically amid economic challenges and international isolation. Moreover, the military’s role in North Korean society is deeply entrenched, with significant resources allocated to the development of weapons programs at the expense of other sectors. Thus, the missile tests serve as a reminder of the regime’s prioritization of military capabilities over the well-being of its citizens.

End Note

North Korea’s recent tests of a “super-large warhead” and a new anti-aircraft missile highlight its determination to bolster its military capabilities. While the tests may serve domestic and strategic objectives for North Korea, they also contribute to regional tensions and pose challenges to international security efforts. The international community must remain vigilant and explore diplomatic avenues to address North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and beyond. Moreover, concerted efforts are needed to address the root causes of North Korea’s security concerns and engage the country in constructive dialogue to achieve lasting peace in the region.

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