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Why BRP Sierra Madre is important for the Philippines?

Why BRP Sierra Madre is important for the Philippines


Amidst the tumultuous waters of the South China Sea, the Philippines stands resolute against the encroaching shadow of Chinese dominance. The stage is set with Manila vehemently rejecting any suggestion of a “temporary special arrangement” with China, dismissing it as a fanciful creation of the Chinese coastguard. National Security Council spokesperson Jonathan Malaya passionately rebuffs these claims, declaring them as mere figments of imagination and asserting Manila’s independence against Beijing’s whims.

At the heart of this defiant narrative lies the BRP Sierra Madre, a symbol of Philippine sovereignty intentionally grounded at the Second Thomas Shoal. This relic of World War II, now weathered by rust and decay, becomes a testament to Manila’s unwavering commitment to assert its territorial claims despite China’s protests. The mere presence of Philippine troops on the vessel stirs emotions of national pride, embodying a collective defiance against China’s encroachment.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines recently announced that it conducted a “flawless” resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre despite the presence of the Chinese navy in the surrounding area. The air-drop of supplies to the besieged troops becomes a fervent act of sovereignty. Manila passionately asserts its inherent right to provide for its soldiers stationed in the face of adversity, encapsulating the spirit of resilience and independence. Tensions escalate with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s administration strengthening ties with the U.S. military, marking a bold stance against Chinese expansionism. Manila’s alliance with Washington emerges as a beacon of hope for regional stability, challenging China’s hegemonic ambitions in the South China Sea.

BRP Sierra Madre: the rusting wreck of the second world war ship

The Second Thomas Shoal, located within the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, is a submerged reef contested by multiple countries, including China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei. Situated approximately 105 nautical miles west of Paiwan, Philippines, and approximately 617 miles from the Chinese mainland, it holds strategic importance in the region.

At the heart of the Second Thomas Shoal lies the BRP Sierra Madre, functioning as a Philippine military outpost and a symbol of the country’s sovereignty in the area. It is a former US Navy ship that was transferred to the Philippines in 1976 and grounded on the Second Thomas Shoal.

Manned by a small group of Philippine marines, this aging vessel stands as a testament to Philippine sovereignty in the region. Notably, U.S. military intelligence views the Shoal’s significance in light of potential Chinese actions, considering it a potential precursor to China’s invasion of Taiwan.

China, however, does not recognize the Philippines’ claim and asserts that it has historical and legal rights over almost the entire South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands. China has been building artificial islands and military facilities on some of the reefs and islands in the region, which has raised tensions and concerns among other claimants and the international community. China has also repeatedly tried to block and harass Philippine resupply missions to the BRP Sierra Madre, demanding its removal from the Second Thomas Shoal.

The territorial dispute between the Philippines and China in the South China Sea is a major source of conflict and instability in the region. The South China Sea is a strategic waterway that carries a large volume of global trade and has significant oil and gas reserves. The United States, which has a mutual defense treaty with the Philippines, supports the Philippines’ position and strongly opposes China’s expansive claims and actions in the region. The US has also conducted freedom of navigation operations and military exercises in the South China Sea to challenge China’s claims.

The dispute between the Philippines and China has been brought to international arbitration, but China has refused to participate or accept the ruling. The ruling, issued in 2016, invalidated China’s claims and upheld the Philippines’ rights in the South China Sea. However, the ruling has not been enforced and the dispute remains unresolved. The BRP Sierra Madre in this context remains a flashpoint and a symbol of the ongoing struggle for sovereignty and security in the South China Sea.

Historical Significance

With a storied past, the BRP Sierra Madre has weathered the tumultuous seas of history. Born as USS LST-821 in 1944, this valiant landing ship tank served the US Navy with distinction in the Pacific Theater during World War II, earning a battle star for its unwavering commitment. Its journey continued as it transitioned to the South Vietnamese Navy after the Vietnam War, standing witness to the ebb and flow of conflicts.

In 1976, the Philippines embraced this resilient vessel, renaming it BRP Dumagat, later christened BRP Sierra Madre. For two decades, it gallantly sailed as an amphibious transport, becoming an integral part of Philippine naval operations. However, its destiny took a deliberate turn in 1999 when faced with China’s encroaching territorial assertions in the Spratly Islands, the Philippines grounded the ship on Second Thomas Shoal. The BRP Sierra Madre became not just a vessel but a living testament to Philippine resilience, symbolizing defiance against China’s overreach. Yet, it remains a vessel caught in the crosscurrents of pride and controversy, standing firm against the waves of geopolitical tensions that threaten its very existence.

Internationally, the BRP Sierra Madre thrusts the territorial dispute into the global spotlight, drawing scrutiny and support for the Philippines’ stance. However, this symbolism comes at a cost, as China challenges the narrative, portraying the grounding as illegal. The vessel’s presence serves as a potential catalyst for increased tensions, exposing the delicate balance between diplomatic solutions and the unwavering defense of national pride. Domestically, it acts as a rallying point, uniting various political factions and sparking debates about the intersection of strategic interests, military commitment, and the essence of Filipino identity. Despite its limitations, the BRP Sierra Madre stands as a powerful emblem of sovereignty in a complex geopolitical landscape.

Practical Significance

The BRP Sierra Madre emerges not just as a mere vessel but as a potent symbol and strategic cornerstone in the Philippines’ stand against China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea. While its military capabilities may be subject to debate, the ship’s physical presence at the Second Thomas Shoal speaks volumes, embodying the Philippines’ unwavering commitment to its territorial sovereignty under the auspices of international law, particularly the UNCLOS. By defiantly maintaining this outpost, the Philippines challenges China’s attempts to exert full control over the region, creating logistical and political hurdles that disrupt Beijing’s ambitions of dominance.

Strategically positioned within a vital shipping lane and near potential oil and gas reserves, the BRP Sierra Madre’s presence safeguards the Philippines’ interests. Its role goes beyond mere observation, as Filipino Marines stationed aboard conduct surveillance, providing critical intelligence to thwart unauthorized activities. Collaborating with allies like the US amplifies this deterrence, bolstering regional stability and underscoring the Philippines’ commitment to defending its sovereignty. However, the ship’s significance is not without challenges, as its outdated condition and legal ambiguities pose hurdles, while the risk of escalation looms large in the volatile waters of the South China Sea.

Legal Implications

The presence of the BRP Sierra Madre at the Second Thomas Shoal epitomizes the Philippines’ steadfast assertion of its territorial rights in the face of China’s relentless expansionism. The 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration stands as a beacon of hope, validating the Philippines’ sovereign rights over its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf, including areas contested by China. This legal triumph bolsters the Philippines’ position on the international stage, reinforcing its claims with the weight of legal authority despite China’s vehement rejection.

Anchored in geographic proximity and historical evidence of Filipino activity, the Philippines’ claim to the Second Thomas Shoal is firmly grounded in principles of international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). However, legal ambiguity and the looming specter of escalation underscore the challenges ahead, as the Philippines navigates the complex terrain of international diplomacy while standing firm in defense of its territorial integrity.


In conclusion, amid the complexities of the South China Sea disputes, the BRP Sierra Madre ship’s presence at the Second Thomas Shoal encapsulates the Philippines’ resolute stand for sovereignty. Despite its aging structure, the vessel embodies the nation’s unwavering defiance against foreign encroachment, offering a beacon of hope amidst turbulent waters. It symbolizes the enduring struggle for justice and freedom, inspiring unity and courage in the face of challenges. The saga of the BRP Sierra Madre serves as a testament to the Filipino people’s unwavering commitment to defend their rights and sovereignty, resonating as a powerful narrative of resilience in the annals of history.


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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Philippines, US Launch Mid Range Missile System in Balikatan

Philippines, US Launch Mid Range Missile System in Balikatan


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.


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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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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