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Why the World is weaponizing Philippines?

Why world is weaponizing Philippines

Introduction

The Philippines is taking bold steps to bolster its military capabilities in response to China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea, here, the parallels can be drawn to historical instances where nations faced similar challenges. For example, during the Cold War, Finland, a neutral country bordering the Soviet Union, implemented a strategy known as “Finlandization” to navigate geopolitical pressures. Despite being situated between two superpowers, Finland maintained its independence by adopting a policy of pragmatic diplomacy, balancing between East and West. Similarly, the Philippines’ strategic alliances with the United States and Japan echo Finland’s approach, stressing the importance of forging partnerships to safeguard sovereignty within regional power dynamics. Just as Finland sought to protect its autonomy through strategic alignments, the Philippines is asserting its interests in the South China Sea while cultivating alliances to reinforce its position on the global stage.

China’s Bullying Tactics

In the wake of China’s persistent attempts to assert dominance over the South China Sea and encroach upon the Philippines’ territorial waters, tensions in the region have reached at new heights. Recent clashes between Chinese and Filipino vessels pinpoints the escalating maritime disputes, potentially drawing in the United States, which is a long-standing ally of the Philippines.

China’s strategy of employing “gray zone” tactics, aimed at coercively altering the status quo without triggering a military response, has targeted the Philippines in particular. Over the past nine months, Filipino vessels have encountered Chinese military-grade lasers and water cannons, obstructing their access to the disputed Spratly Islands.

In a bold move reminiscent of Chinese tactics, Manila recently deployed Coast Guard officials as fishermen to remove buoys blocking Filipino fishermen from their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This symbolic act of defiance exposed China’s bullying tactics and served as a rallying cry for other nations facing similar intimidation.

China’s objective includes pressuring the Philippines to surrender its claim to Second Thomas Shoal, which is a strategic reef in the Spratly Islands. Despite Chinese harassment, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has remained steadfast in defending Philippine sovereignty, citing the 2016 international arbitral ruling against China’s expansive maritime claims.

The Philippines’ stance has garnered support from the United States, with whom it recently reaffirmed mutual defense commitments under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty. The Biden administration has intensified military cooperation through bilateral talks and joint military exercises, signaling a deepening of the U.S.-Philippines alliance.

Furthermore, other nations such as Japan, Australia, and Canada have demonstrated solidarity with the Philippines against China’s maritime aggression. Tokyo has bolstered defense ties, while Australia has conducted joint patrols with the Philippines in the South China Sea.

By leading the charge against China’s maritime bullying, the Philippines is setting a precedent for Southeast Asian nations to assert their sovereignty and safeguard vital resources. With robust support from Washington and its allies, Manila is challenging China’s “gray zone” activities and promoting free and open seas, reshaping the regional security landscape in favor of sovereign nations.

Philippines’ Response: Upgrading Military Infrastructure

The Philippines is embarking on a significant effort to upgrade its military infrastructure, allocating an impressive $35 billion over the next decade. This initiative aims to bolster the nation’s defense capabilities, particularly in the South China Sea. President Ferdinand “Bong Bong” Marcos has greenlit these modernization efforts, focusing on strengthening the navy, air force, surveillance, and other military assets.

Colonel Francel Margareth Padilla, spokesperson for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, highlight the importance of this capability enhancement, emphasizing its significant contribution to national defense as the country transitions from domestic security operations to territorial defense. Chief of Staff Romeo Brawner Jr has disclosed plans to acquire more warships, combat aircraft, radars, and other essential equipment under this modernization initiative.

The modernization plan includes various acquisitions, such as Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA), radars, additional frigates, guided missile systems, helicopters, and submarines. Notably, the Philippine Navy is poised to acquire its first submarines, with countries like South Korea, Spain, and France expressing interest in supplying them. Moreover, the Philippines is set to receive its inaugural batch of the Coastal Missile System “BrahMos”, following a significant investment of approximately $375 million.

The deployment of the BrahMos missile system, strategically positioned in the South China Sea, marks a significant step, making the Philippines the first country outside India to utilize this advanced technology. With its formidable capabilities, including a supersonic speed of Mach 2.8 and an effective range of approximately 300km, the BrahMos missile system enhances the Philippines’ defensive posture and asserts sovereignty over its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

In parallel, the Philippines is enhancing its military presence on islands and reefs in the contested South China Sea, as announced by Manila’s military chief, Romeo Brawner. This initiative focuses on improving the livability of these features for troops stationed there, including the installation of essential infrastructure like desalination machines.

Despite ongoing territorial disputes involving multiple claimants, including China, the Philippines remains steadfast in its commitment to international law and sustainability. Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro affirmed the country’s determination to ensure the “unimpeded and peaceful” exploration and exploitation of natural resources within its EEZ, signaling a proactive stance in safeguarding national interests.

Transforming Military Focus

During a visit to Australia, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines reiterated the country’s commitment to cooperation with China regarding talks on the disputed South China Sea. However, he emphasized that the Philippines would push back if its sovereignty and maritime rights were disregarded. Marcos expressed his dedication to working with Southeast Asian nations and China to establish a long-awaited code of conduct for the South China Sea, anchored on international law.

Speaking at a Lowy Institute forum, Marcos pinpointed the importance of managing tensions effectively for the success of COC negotiations. He reaffirmed the Philippines’ stance of not surrendering any of its territories to foreign powers. Despite strained relations with China since Marcos assumed office in 2022, characterized by disputes over atolls and reefs in the South China Sea, the Philippines has strengthened its defense ties with the United States, a move Marcos emphasized was the country’s choice.

Highlighting the enduring alliance with the United States as a pillar of regional stability, Marcos emphasized the Philippines’ commitment to strengthening it further. He departed from his predecessor’s pro-China stance, accusing Beijing of aggression in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. Under Marcos, the Philippines has expanded the number of bases accessible to U.S. forces, including new sites facing Taiwan.

Regular U.S.-Philippine military exercises have extended to joint air and sea patrols over the South China Sea and near Taiwan, actions viewed by China as provocative. Marcos criticized the excessive focus on the superpower rivalry between the United States and China, stressing the importance of addressing aggressive, unilateral actions that violate international law. He announced approval of the third phase of the military’s acquisition plan to support the country’s shift towards external defense, ensuring the peaceful exploration and exploitation of natural resources within its jurisdiction, including its exclusive economic zone.

International Support

During a summit in Manila between Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Japan affirmed its commitment to providing defense-related equipment to the Philippines. These included small patrol vessels, radars, and drones under Japan’s new Official Security Assistance (OSA) framework. The initiative aimed to increase security ties with the Philippines in response to China’s aggressive maritime expansion in the East and South China Seas.

The decision to supply defense equipment aligns with Japan’s National Security Strategy, emphasizing cooperation with like-minded countries to reinforce security. Unlike official development assistance, OSA enables direct support for the armed forces of partner nations with shared objectives.

Territorial disputes between the Philippines and China, particularly in the South China Sea, have escalated, prompting Japan and the Philippines to enter negotiations for a Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA). This agreement will facilitate joint training between Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and the Philippine military.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno recognized Japan’s commitment to upholding a free and open international order based on the rule of law and described the Philippines as a strategic partner sharing fundamental values and principles, expressing Japan’s eagerness to strengthen the bilateral relationship.

Japan’s prioritization of the Philippines as the first recipient of OSA signifies its commitment to supporting the Philippines and enhancing security cooperation. Additionally, the RAA negotiation highlights Japan’s efforts to deepen ties with Manila and pinpoint the importance of joint training and cooperation in addressing regional security challenges, particularly concerning China’s assertive actions.

The momentum for enhanced security cooperation has been bolstered by the Marcos administration’s efforts to improve relations with the United States since assuming office in June 2022. Both Tokyo and Manila anticipate that the conclusion of the RAA will pave the way for expanded joint training activities, including with Washington.

The inaugural joint talks between the National Security Advisers of the United States, Japan, and the Philippines on June 16 marked a significant milestone in regional security cooperation. In response to escalating tensions over North Korea, China, and Ukraine, the three nations affirmed their commitment to bolstering defense cooperation to adapt to the evolving security landscape.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan reported that discussions among himself, Takeo Akiba of Japan, and Eduardo Ano of the Philippines centered on addressing the turbulent regional security environment. Their joint efforts aimed to enhance peace and stability, particularly in critical areas such as freedom of navigation and economic security.

A joint statement issued by Sullivan, Akiba, and Ano claimed the importance of strengthening trilateral cooperation, building upon existing alliances between Japan and the U.S., as well as between the Philippines and the U.S.

Sullivan highlighted the significance of this new trilateral framework, emphasizing its integration into broader U.S. alliances in the Indo-Pacific. The engagement includes three-way cooperation with Japan and South Korea, along with the Quad security dialogue involving Australia, India, Japan, and the United States. Discussions encompassed opportunities for joint naval exercises in the Indo-Pacific, as well as deepening military cooperation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts.

Japan’s adoption of a new National Security Strategy last December, include a significant increase in defense spending and security assistance for developing nations. This strategy is particularly relevant for the Philippines, which is expected to benefit from Japanese support in infrastructure development and security assistance.

As tensions persist in the South China Sea among multiple claimants, including China, the United States reaffirmed its commitment to freedom of navigation and peaceful dispute resolution in the region.

Philippines’ First Submarines

Likewise, the Philippines’ decision to acquire its first submarine represent a significant shift towards a more proactive stance in safeguarding its interests beyond its borders, according to analysts. Approved by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as part of the military’s modernization plan.

Chester Cabalza, founder of the International Development and Security Cooperation think tank, views the submarine purchase as a transformative step, signaling a departure from the country’s traditional focus on internal security towards a stronger emphasis on territorial defense. Cabalza believes this move will position the Philippines as a maritime power in the region.

The Philippines’ defense budget for 2024, which includes additional funding to enhance its presence in the South China Sea, signals its commitment to strengthen its military capabilities. Mark Manantan, director of cybersecurity and critical technologies at the Pacific Forum International, sees the submarine acquisition as a sign of Manila’s growing security assertiveness.

In this regard, several submarine manufacturers have eagerly presented their offerings to the Philippines, reflecting the keen interest in securing a contract. Spain’s Navantia stands out with its proposal of two S80-class Isaac Peral submarines, valued at US$1.7 billion. This offer includes not only the acquisition of submarines, but also the construction of a submarine base in Ormoc City, Leyte, along with comprehensive training, technology transfer, and maintenance support.

Navantia’s S80-class submarines, measuring 81 meters in length, boast advanced capabilities, including the ability to launch attacks from sea to land and conduct various missions such as surveillance and anti-submarine operations. Equipped with an Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system, these submarines can remain submerged for extended periods, enhancing their operational effectiveness.

Furthermore, the submarines offered by Navantia can deploy guided Harpoon missiles and Tomahawk cruise missiles, further augmenting the Philippines’ defensive capabilities in the maritime domain.

In addition to Navantia, France’s Naval Group is competing to provide submarines to the Philippines, offering two diesel-electric Scorpene-class submarines.

Meanwhile, South Korean company Hanwha Ocean (formerly known as DSME) is also vying for the opportunity to supply submarines to the Philippine Navy. Their proposal of the Jang Bogo-III submarines, equipped with advanced propulsion systems and guided missile capabilities, presents another compelling option for the Philippines.

Overall, the race among Spain, France, and South Korea to supply submarines to the Philippines highlights the country’s commitment to enhancing its defence capabilities in the face of evolving security challenges.

Overall, analysts view the submarine acquisition as a pivotal moment for the Philippines. The Philippines is currently deliberating whether to proceed with the acquisition of its inaugural submarine, a decision that holds the potential to increase the country’s naval capabilities amid a strategic shift toward external defense, stated Colonel Francel Margareth Padilla, spokesperson for the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

End Note: Philippines’ Stand Against China

As tensions escalate in the South China Sea, the Philippines is determined to assert its sovereignty and defend its interests. By bolstering its military capabilities, forging strategic alliances with the United States and Japan, and exploring new avenues such as acquiring submarines, the Philippines is sending a clear message that it will not tolerate further encroachment on its territorial waters. Through diplomatic engagement, modernization efforts, and international support, the Philippines is reshaping the regional security landscape, challenging China’s “gray zone” tactics, and promoting the principles of freedom of navigation and territorial integrity.

Analysis

Philippines Air Force Joins Multi-Nation War Games in Australia to Counter China

Philippines Air Force Joins Multi-Nation War Games in Australia to Counter China

In an unprecedented move, the Philippines Air Force has embarked on its first overseas deployment in over six decades. This historic event sees the Philippines joining forces with U.S. and Australian fighter jets for combat practice in northern Australia amidst escalating tensions with China in the South China Sea. This strategic maneuver underscores the Philippines’ commitment to enhancing its defense capabilities and strengthening alliances in response to regional security challenges.

The Pitch Black War Games

The Pitch Black war games, a significant international air combat training activity, took place in Australia’s sparsely populated Northern Territory from July 12 to August 2, 2024. This large-scale exercise included four Philippine FA-50 fighter jets and 162 personnel among approximately 140 aircraft and over 4,000 personnel from 20 nations.

This year’s iteration was the largest in the exercise’s 43-year history, exposing participants to complex scenarios utilizing advanced aircraft and battlespace systems. Aircraft and personnel from the Philippines, Spain, Italy, Papua New Guinea, and embedded personnel from Fiji and Brunei participated for the first time, joining aircraft from countries such as France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the United States, and embedded personnel from Canada and New Zealand.

Aircraft operated primarily from RAAF bases in Darwin and Tindal in the Northern Territory, with additional tanker and transport aircraft at RAAF Base Amberley in Queensland. Exercise Pitch Black is Australia’s premier activity for international engagement, held every two years to build stronger ties with like-minded nations.

A Historic Milestone

This deployment marks a significant moment in the history of the Philippines Air Force, as the first time since 1963 that it has taken combat aircraft abroad. On July 10, 2024, four FA-50s and 162 personnel from the Philippine Air Force arrived at RAAF Base in Darwin, marking the first-ever deployment of the country’s fighter jets for drills outside the Philippines.

Royal Australian Air Force Air Commodore Pete Robinson expressed his honor at Australia being chosen for this significant deployment, highlighting the historic nature of the event. The decision to deploy four FA-50s instead of the initially planned six was made to retain more aircraft in the Philippines for domestic operational requirements.

The deployment of the FA-50s to the Pitch Black war games demonstrates the Philippines’ commitment to engaging in multinational military cooperation and improving its own defense capabilities. The FA-50s, which are light combat aircraft, are well-suited for training exercises that involve both air-to-air and air-to-ground combat scenarios. By participating in these exercises, the Philippines Air Force can gain valuable experience and insights into modern combat tactics and technologies.

Enhancing Capabilities

The vast airspace of the Northern Territory provides an ideal environment for enhancing a wide range of capabilities, focusing on the tactical execution of large force employment and offensive counter air and land operations in a multinational coalition environment. The war games involve not only dog fighting but also the use of advanced radar and missile systems for long-range engagements.

Philippine fighter jets worked alongside advanced aircraft such as the F-35A Lightning II, EA-18G Growler, and Su-30MKI Flanker, tackling complex problems against simulated adversaries and ground threats. This includes air-to-air refueling, reconnaissance, and airlift operations, enhancing the capabilities of all participating forces to operate together, improve readiness, and strengthen regional partnerships.

The FA-50s’ participation in these exercises allows the Philippine pilots to train in an environment that mimics real combat conditions. This exposure is crucial for building confidence and proficiency in handling advanced aircraft and executing complex missions. The experience gained from these exercises will be invaluable in guiding the Philippines’ ongoing military modernization efforts.

A United Front

The U.S. F-22 stealth fighter and Australia’s F-35A and F-18 are among the combat aircraft taking part in these war games. The U.S. sent F-22 jets from the 15th Wing based at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, to train alongside Australia’s F-35A jets, improving interoperability between their armed forces.

Fast-jet pilots from the U.S. Marine Corps conducted training in offensive counter air, defensive counter air, suppression of enemy air defenses, and strike mission sets during the day and night, demonstrating the depth of interoperability between the two nations.

The collaborative efforts in the Pitch Black war games highlight the importance of interoperability and joint operations among allied forces. By training together, these forces can develop a better understanding of each other’s tactics, procedures, and capabilities. This level of cooperation is essential for effective multinational operations, especially in complex and dynamic combat environments.

The participation of the Philippines in this multinational exercise not only enhances its own defense capabilities but also strengthens its ties with key allies. The ability to operate seamlessly with U.S. and Australian forces is a strategic advantage for the Philippines, particularly in the context of regional security challenges.

The South China Sea Dispute

The South China Sea dispute between the Philippines and China has been a source of tension for many years. The crux of the dispute lies in overlapping territorial claims over the South China Sea, a strategic and resource-rich waterway. China’s extensive claims have led to several direct confrontations, including a clash at the Second Thomas Shoal on June 17, 2024, causing injuries to Filipino navy personnel and damage to military boats.

The encounters between the two nations have grown increasingly tense as Beijing continues to assert its claims to shoals in waters that Manila insists are within its exclusive economic zone. Despite these tensions, both sides have affirmed their commitment to deescalate tensions without prejudice to their respective positions. However, the geopolitical landscape in the South China Sea remains complex and fluid, posing significant challenges to regional stability and international law.

China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea, such as the construction of artificial islands and the deployment of military assets, have heightened tensions with neighboring countries, including the Philippines. The strategic importance of the South China Sea, which serves as a major shipping route and is believed to contain significant oil and gas reserves, makes it a focal point of regional and global interest.

China’s Reaction

China’s reaction to the Pitch Black war games was significant. Following the announcement of the exercise, China launched drills in the Taiwan Strait in response to what it perceived as “separatist acts.” These drills involved heavily armed warplanes and staged mock attacks, demonstrating China’s ability to control the seas and prevent foreign involvement.

China’s military maneuvers are a clear signal of its willingness to assert its territorial claims and counter any perceived threats to its interests. The timing of these drills, just days after the announcement of the Pitch Black war games, underscores the geopolitical tensions in the region. China’s actions reflect its broader strategy of demonstrating military strength and deterring foreign intervention in what it considers its sphere of influence.

The Philippines’ participation in the Pitch Black war games can be seen as a response to China’s assertiveness. By strengthening its defense capabilities and engaging in multinational exercises, the Philippines is signaling its determination to protect its territorial integrity and uphold international law. This strategic approach aims to deter potential aggression and contribute to regional stability.

The Philippines’ Defense Strategy

Despite having a mutual defense treaty with the United States, the Philippines is increasingly looking to its own air force and navy as the first line of defense. This shift in strategy is in response to the perceived threat from China, with Manila making concerted efforts to bolster its defense capability.

The Philippines’ defense strategy includes preserving holdings in the disputed sea, deterring coercive actions against Philippine vessels and citizens, and compelling Chinese recognition of and compliance with the 2016 South China Sea Arbitration Award. This multifaceted approach involves strengthening the country’s military capabilities, enhancing regional alliances, and leveraging international legal mechanisms to protect its interests.

In addition to strengthening its military capabilities, the Philippines is forging stronger defense ties with other countries. For instance, the Philippines and Japan recently signed a crucial military agreement permitting the deployment of their forces on each other’s soil, bolstering defense ties between Tokyo and Manila. This agreement, known as the Reciprocal Access Agreement, enhances interoperability and facilitates joint training and exercises, contributing to regional security.

The Philippines’ defense strategy also involves increasing investments in military modernization. The ongoing modernization program aims to equip the Armed Forces of the Philippines with advanced hardware and capabilities to address a wide range of security threats. This includes the acquisition of multirole fighter jets, radars, missile systems, frigates, helicopters, and submarines.

Modernization of the Military

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has embarked on a 15-year modernization program that started in 2012 and will continue through 2027. This program, also known as the Revised Armed Forces Modernization Act, aims to strengthen the AFP’s capability to address counterterrorism and internal threats.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. recently approved a significant military procurement plan, estimated at around $35 billion over the next ten years. This includes acquiring multirole fighter jets, radars, frigates, missile systems, helicopters, and the country’s first submarine fleet.

The modernization program is divided into three phases: Horizon 1 (2013-2017), Horizon 2 (2018-2022), and Horizon 3 (2023-2027). Each phase focuses on different aspects of capability development, with Horizon 3 emphasizing the acquisition of advanced systems and platforms to enhance the country’s defense posture.

Key elements of the modernization program include:

Multirole Fighter Jets: The acquisition of multirole fighter jets, such as the FA-50s, enhances the Philippines’ air defense and strike capabilities.

Frigates and Corvettes: The procurement of additional Jose Rizal-class frigates and missile corvettes improves the country’s naval capabilities, enabling it to protect its maritime interests and conduct various naval operations.

Missile Systems: The acquisition of missile systems, including

surface-to-air and anti-ship missiles, enhances the country’s deterrence and defensive capabilities.

Submarine Fleet: The development of a submarine fleet provides the Philippines with a strategic asset for underwater defense and deterrence.

Regional Defense Relationships

The Philippines is actively seeking to establish more regional defense relationships. Recent defense agreements with Australia and Japan indicate a commitment to enhancing interoperability and strengthening defense ties. These agreements contribute to the Philippines’ defense strategy by enhancing its ability to respond to various security threats.

The agreement with Australia, known as the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA), facilitates the rotation of Australian forces in the Philippines and vice versa. This agreement enhances joint training, interoperability, and capacity-building initiatives, strengthening the defense ties between the two countries.

Similarly, the Reciprocal Access Agreement with Japan allows for closer defense cooperation, joint exercises, and logistical support. This agreement reflects the growing strategic partnership between Japan and the Philippines, driven by shared concerns over regional security and the need to uphold international norms.

The Philippines is also engaging in defense cooperation with other countries in the region, such as South Korea, India, and Vietnam. These partnerships involve joint training exercises, defense dialogues, and capacity-building initiatives, contributing to the overall security architecture of the region.

Implications and Future Developments

The Philippines’ participation in the Pitch Black war games is a significant development in its defense strategy, signaling its commitment to enhancing operational readiness and capabilities. This move also underscores the Philippines’ willingness to collaborate with other nations in maintaining regional security.

By participating in these war games, the Philippines is sending a strong message to other countries in the region, including China. This could potentially deter aggressive actions in the South China Sea and contribute to regional peace and stability. However, it could also escalate tensions, highlighting the need for careful management to prevent conflict.

The experience gained from these exercises will be invaluable in guiding the Philippines’ ongoing military modernization efforts. As tensions continue to rise in the South China Sea, the country is demonstrating its commitment to enhancing its defense capabilities and ensuring preparedness for any eventualities.

The Philippines’ strategic approach involves strengthening its military capabilities, enhancing regional alliances, and leveraging international legal mechanisms to protect its interests. By doing so, the Philippines aims to deter potential aggression, uphold international law, and contribute to regional stability.

The future of the South China Sea dispute remains uncertain, with ongoing geopolitical tensions and competing territorial claims. However, the Philippines’ proactive stance and commitment to defense modernization signal its determination to navigate these challenges and safeguard its sovereignty.

In essence, the Philippines’ participation in the Pitch Black war games is a historic milestone that reflects its evolving defense strategy and commitment to regional security. By enhancing its capabilities and strengthening its alliances, the Philippines is positioning itself as a key player in maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea and beyond.

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Analysis

Chinese Carrier Passes Near Philippines Amid Rising Tensions in South China Sea

Chinese Carrier Passes Near Philippines Amid Rising Tensions in South China Sea

Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong passed close to the northern Philippines en route to military drills in the Pacific, Taiwan’s defense minister reported on Wednesday. The maneuver came as tensions between Beijing and Manila over territorial disputes in the South China Sea continue to escalate.

Taiwan, vigilant about Chinese movements due to frequent military activities around the island, closely monitored the Shandong’s transit. The defense ministry detected 36 Chinese military aircraft, including J-16 fighters and nuclear-capable H-6 bombers, heading south and southeast of Taiwan to join the Shandong for exercises in the Western Pacific.

Taiwan Defense Minister Wellington Koo assured that his ministry had a “full grasp” of the carrier’s movements. He noted that the Shandong did not pass through the Bashi Channel, the usual route for Chinese warships and aircraft heading into the Pacific. Instead, the carrier traveled further south through the Balintang Channel, situated between the Philippines’ Batanes and Babuyan Islands.

China’s defense ministry did not respond to requests for comment. However, the Philippines military expressed concern over the deployment of the Chinese carrier group. Spokesperson Francel Margareth Padilla emphasized the importance of maintaining regional peace and stability, urging all parties to adhere to international laws and norms.

The Philippines is currently embroiled in a tense stand-off with China over the disputed Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea. The recent movements of the Shandong carrier group have added to the strained relations between the two nations.

Japan’s Self Defense Forces also reported detecting the Shandong late Tuesday, accompanied by two missile destroyers and a frigate, approximately 500 km south of Okinawa. Japanese navy ships monitored the carrier group’s movements while Japanese fighter jets scrambled in response to aircraft launched from the carrier.

The Shandong has previously operated near Taiwan, including an incident in December when it passed through the Taiwan Strait just weeks before Taiwanese elections. Taiwan President Lai Ching-te reiterated his government’s commitment to maintaining the status quo in the Taiwan Strait amidst China’s repeated challenges.

During a meeting with the new de facto U.S. ambassador to Taipei, Raymond Greene, President Lai emphasized Taiwan’s resolve in the face of China’s attempts to alter the regional dynamics. Greene reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to supporting Taiwan’s defense capabilities, highlighting the crucial arms supplier relationship despite the absence of formal diplomatic ties.

Taiwan is preparing for its annual Han Kuang war games, scheduled to start on July 22. In anticipation, China has increased its military activities around the island. Since early July, Taiwan has reported detecting over 270 Chinese military aircraft operating in the vicinity, along with two Chinese “joint combat readiness patrols” involving warplanes and warships.

A security source familiar with Chinese deployments in the region noted the traditional summer drills but pointed out the “unusual” uptick in recent activities. The source, speaking anonymously, described the security situation around Taiwan as “worrying.”

China’s animosity towards President Lai is well-known, and it conducted two days of war games shortly after he assumed office in May. Beijing labels Lai as a “separatist” and has consistently rejected his offers for dialogue. Lai, on the other hand, denies Beijing’s sovereignty claims, asserting that only the people of Taiwan can decide their future.

The geopolitical tensions between China and the Philippines have also heightened, with the Chinese carrier’s recent proximity to the Philippines adding another layer of tensions to the situation. The Philippines has been increasingly vocal about its territorial rights in the South China Sea, a region rich in resources and strategic importance.

In response to these developments, regional allies and international observers have expressed concern over the potential for conflict. The United States, a key ally of both Taiwan and the Philippines, has reiterated its commitment to defending their sovereignty and supporting their military capabilities.

As the Shandong continues its journey into the Pacific, the international community is closely watching the unfolding events. The exercises and maneuvers by Chinese forces are seen as a show of strength and a signal of Beijing’s determination to assert its claims in contested waters.

The delicate balance of power in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait is at a critical juncture. Diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions are ongoing, but the military posturing by China indicates that the region remains on edge.

Taiwan’s annual Han Kuang war games will likely be scrutinized by both China and international observers. The exercises are designed to test Taiwan’s defense capabilities and readiness in the face of potential threats, particularly from China.

The recent increase in Chinese military activities around Taiwan highlights the island’s strategic importance and the high stakes involved in the regional power dynamics. The situation remains fluid, with potential implications for global security and economic stability.

As China continues its military drills and the Shandong navigates the contested waters, the world watches closely, hoping for a peaceful resolution but preparing for the possibility of heightened conflict in one of the world’s most volatile regions.

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Analysis

Whose Navy is strongest in ASEAN?

Whose Navy is strongest in ASEAN?

Throughout history, naval dominance has played a crucial role in shaping the geopolitical landscape, with the British Royal Navy’s supremacy during the 19th century serving as a prime example. By controlling key sea routes and ensuring maritime security, the British Empire expanded its influence, protected its trade interests, and maintained global stability. In Southeast Asia, the maritime dynamics are similarly shaped by the diverse naval capabilities and strategic priorities of its nations. From Indonesia’s formidable naval force safeguarding its vast archipelago to Vietnam’s rapidly modernizing navy aimed at deterring regional threats, each country navigates unique geopolitical challenges. The Philippines fortifies its alliances amid rising tensions in the South China Sea, while Thailand enhances its naval assets to address non-state challenges. Singapore has an advanced and self-reliant navy, and Malaysia strengthens its maritime security through regional cooperation. Myanmar, despite limited capabilities, focuses on developing its naval and coast guard forces, and Cambodia modernizes its naval base in collaboration with China. Brunei, with a smaller fleet, prioritizes coastal defense and regional security initiatives. These varied approaches highlight the critical importance of maritime security and defense in the region’s stability and prosperity.

Let’s discuss, who has the strongest navy in South East Asia?

Indonesia: The Maritime Giant

Indonesia has a formidable naval force crucial for safeguarding its vast archipelago and exerting influence in the surrounding regions. Positioned along critical sea routes, Indonesia plays a pivotal role in global maritime security. The Indonesian Navy’s prime location in the Indo-Pacific, combined with its modernization efforts to enhance capabilities, a large fleet of warships, submarines, and patrol vessels, and active participation in regional security initiatives, signifies its strengths. The Indonesian Navy operates eight submarines, including the Nagapasa-class and Cakra-class vessels. Additionally, their surface fleet comprises frigates, corvettes, and patrol boats. One of the most difficult and challenging geopolitical issue for Indonesia is the South China Sea conflict. Indonesia’s approach to balancing territorial claims in the South China Sea is strategic. To ensure sustainable naval development, Indonesia has entered into an agreement with the French Naval Group and domestic company PT PAL to acquire two Scorpene-class submarines. The Indonesian Navy aims to expand its fleet to a total of 12 submarines.

Vietnam: Rising Naval Power

Having a long coastline facing the South China Sea, Vietnam stands among the Southeast Asian nations with the fastest-growing militaries and defense budget. Vietnam aims to modernize its defense capabilities to deter regional threats, anticipating a cumulative defense budget of $46 billion between 2025 and 2029. This aligns with the broader trend among Southeast Asian countries, which are boosting their defense budget to strengthen territorial sovereignty.

With a coastline stretching 2,000 miles along the South China Sea and significant GDP contributions from the maritime industry, maritime concerns are a top defense priority for Vietnam. In 2011, Vietnam released a comprehensive marine plan for 2011 to 2020, emphasizing maritime sovereignty and industry as crucial pillars of national security. By 2018, Resolution 36 highlighted the need for sustainable development of the maritime sector in line with national security, making it a priority for Vietnam’s economic development from 2030 to 2045.

A key aspect of the growing defense ties between the United States and Vietnam is maritime security. Between 2017 and 2023, the U.S. State Department provided approximately $104 million in security assistance to Vietnam through the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program to increase its marine security and law enforcement capacities. In 2018, FMF allocated an additional $81.5 million to Vietnam as part of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy. Prominent examples of bilateral maritime security cooperation include U.S. port visits to Vietnam and joint naval exercises.

Vietnam’s cautious approach to strengthening ties with the United States aims to maintain stable and peaceful relationship with its neighbours. Stronger defense relations between the U.S. and Vietnam may provoke China, potentially leading to punitive actions against Vietnam. Consequently, Hanoi has sought to reassure Beijing that its Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) with Washington is not a security alliance against China. In recent high-level meetings between Chinese and Vietnamese officials, Vietnam emphasized its positive bilateral relations with China and its “Four No’s” defense policy.

Vietnam has effectively managed its great power relations by balancing assurance, hedging, and deterrence, as demonstrated by recent constructive engagements with both China and the United States. However, the evolving geopolitical landscape will present challenges, requiring Vietnam to continuously adapt and recalibrate its strategies.

Philippines: Striving for Modernization

Within the Philippines’ 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the Second Thomas Shoal of the Spratly Islands remains a flashpoint in the nation’s ongoing conflict with China. To assert its claims in what it calls the West Philippine Sea, the Philippines intentionally grounded the BRP Sierra Madre in 1999. Since then, this vessel has become a symbol of the territorial dispute, with the Philippine Coast Guard conducting regular resupply missions to support military personnel stationed there. In 2023, these missions faced increasing interference from Chinese Coast Guard vessels, intensifying regional tensions.

Amid rising hostilities, the Philippines has increased its alliances with other Indo-Pacific nations. President Marcos has signed agreements with the United States to expand arms exports, joint training exercises, and base access. The Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the United States and the Philippines, which ensures mutual support in case of armed attacks, was reaffirmed by U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at multiple instances in 2024. Additionally, Japan has strengthened its role in regional security by providing military hardware to the Philippines.

The BRP Sierra Madre, grounded at Second Thomas Shoal, symbolizes the Philippines’ commitment to asserting its territorial claims. Despite its age and challenging conditions, it remains a strategic outpost for the Philippine Coast Guard. Regular resupply missions by the Philippine Coast Guard are crucial for maintaining the military presence on the BRP Sierra Madre, demonstrating the nation’s resolve to uphold its sovereignty. Chinese Coast Guard vessels have increasingly interfered with these missions, using risky tactics that heighten tensions and increase the sensitivity of territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Other ASEAN States

Thailand: Strengthening Naval Capabilities

Thailand aims to enhance its maritime knowledge, reinforce deterrence, and better restrict unlawful marine operations by modernizing its naval assets. Already possessing one of the most powerful navies in Southeast Asia, Thailand continues to acquire advanced naval warfare capabilities from a variety of foreign partners, though the current capacity still falls short of government aspirations. To reduce reliance on imports amid global uncertainty, Thailand is concurrently developing a domestic shipbuilding sector.

As a non-claimant state in the South China Sea with friendly relations with all major nations, Thailand does not face an existential threat from direct conflict with a great power. However, the potential for an attack cannot be entirely dismissed, given the constantly evolving non-state challenges it faces. Strong naval presences on both national coasts are crucial to ensure maximum security and resilience. The absence of a maritime shortcut between the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand further limits Thailand’s defense flexibility, making robust coastal defenses even more essential.

Singapore: Advanced and Self-Reliant Naval Force

Singapore’s Navy, while purchasing missiles, torpedoes, and submarines from overseas, primarily relies on domestic businesses to meet its needs. Most of the fleet, including platform landing ships, multipurpose auxiliary vessels, and offshore patrol boats, is built by regional companies. The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) commands a highly developed naval force with two Challenger-class (Sjöormen-class) and two Archer-class (Västergotland-class) submarines. As part of its broader initiative to enhance fleet flexibility and incorporate unmanned technologies, Singapore has engaged ST Engineering to modernize its Formidable-class frigates. This strategic approach ensures that Singapore maintains a robust and self-reliant naval force capable of addressing contemporary maritime challenges.

Malaysia: Strengthening Maritime Security

As a maritime nation, Malaysia places great importance on maritime security, serving as a crucial hub for global trade and commerce due to its strategic location in Southeast Asia. This advantageous position, however, also exposes the country to various maritime security threats. In response, Malaysia has made significant investments to enhance its naval power, focusing on acquiring advanced and modern warships. The Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) has added sophisticated vessels to its fleet, including Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs), Littoral Mission Ships (LMS), and Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), all designed to efficiently monitor and protect Malaysia’s waterways. Equipped with advanced radar and surveillance systems, these ships are capable of detecting and tracking suspicious vessels in the area.

To further enhance its maritime security capabilities, Malaysia actively participates in regional and global maritime security cooperation. The nation engages in numerous cooperative maritime exercises with countries such as the United States, Australia, and Singapore. Additionally, the RMN conducts joint patrols with foreign fleets to improve its capabilities and gain a deeper understanding of the regional maritime security landscape. Malaysia also takes part in the Malacca Straits Patrol (MSP), a collaborative initiative with Indonesia and Singapore aimed at enhancing maritime security in the vital Malacca Strait.

Myanmar: Developing Naval and Coast Guard Capabilities

Myanmar, a military-run country in Southeast Asia, has limited naval capabilities. Recently, it hosted its first-ever cooperative naval drill with Russia, a significant ally and supplier of weaponry to Myanmar’s military regime, which took power in February 2021 after overthrowing Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratic administration. The Myanmar Coast Guard is trying to play a crucial role in protecting the country’s maritime interests. It operates in a constabulary manner, assisting with search and rescue operations, promoting marine environmental conservation, and monitoring various activities both above and below the water in Myanmar’s waters.

The foundation for the Coast Guard was laid by the Aung San Suu Kyi-led NLD government in 2018. Now under the Ministry of Defense, the Myanmar Coast Guard collaborates closely with the Myanmar Police Force, the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development, the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries, and Rural Development, and the Myanmar Navy. Its mission is to protect Myanmar’s territorial seas, which encompass 23,070 square kilometers and approximately 1,000 islands, as well as its 1,930 kilometers of coastline. Through these efforts, Myanmar aims to enhance its maritime security and safeguard its extensive maritime domain.

Cambodia: Maritime Developments

Although Cambodia is not landlocked, it has limited coastline along the Gulf of Thailand. This coastal area is crucial for its maritime interests. In a significant move towards enhancing its maritime capabilities, the official “modernization” of the Ream Naval Base was marked by a ceremony attended by the Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia, Wang Wentian, and Cambodia’s Defense Minister, along with other officials. During the event, they symbolically turned over shovels full of soil, signaling the start of this strategic development. This modernization effort reflects Cambodia’s growing cooperation with China in bolstering its naval infrastructure.

Brunei: Limited Naval Capabilities

The Royal Brunei Navy (RBN) operates with a small fleet of patrol boats and coastal defense units. Brunei’s limited naval capacity is partly due to its small size and economic focus on other sectors, particularly energy, such as oil and gas. As a result, the nation prioritizes investments in these lucrative industries over significant naval expansion. Despite its modest maritime force, Brunei maintains a focus on safeguarding its coastal waters and supporting regional security initiatives.

End Note

In examining the naval capabilities and strategic maritime priorities of ASEAN nations, it becomes evident that each country adopts unique approaches tailored to its geographical and geopolitical context. Indonesia stands out as a maritime giant with a formidable fleet, while Vietnam rapidly modernizes to enhance its naval power. The Philippines navigates complex territorial disputes with a focus on alliances, Thailand bolsters its capabilities to address non-state threats, and Singapore maintains a highly advanced and self-reliant navy. Malaysia emphasizes regional cooperation, Myanmar develops its nascent naval forces, Cambodia modernizes with Chinese support, and Brunei prioritizes coastal defense. Together, these varied strategies highlight the critical importance of maritime security in ensuring regional stability and economic prosperity in Southeast Asia.

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