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Philippines is the Achilles Heel in China’s plan to invade Taiwan

Philippines is the Achilles Heel in China's plan to invade Taiwan

The Philippines occupies a pivotal role as the Achilles’ heel in China’s strategic ambitions regarding Taiwan due to its strategic location and defense cooperation with the United States. Situated in close proximity to both Taiwan and the South China Sea, the Philippines serves as a critical barrier to China’s plans for any potential military action against Taiwan. Control over major sea lanes crucial for naval operations, coupled with its mutual defense treaty with the United States, acts as a significant deterrent against Chinese aggression. Additionally, ongoing territorial disputes in the South China Sea have heightened tensions, prompting the Philippines to bolster its maritime security capabilities and fortify defense alliances to safeguard its sovereignty. This defensive posture has diverted China’s attention from Taiwan towards the Philippines and with each passing day China is getting distracted from its goal of invading Taiwan towards countering the resentment that it faces by the Philippines routinely. In our quest, we will deeply analyze how the Philippines has become the Achilles heel in China’s plan to invade Taiwan.

A Rising Dragon

China’s meteoric rise as a global economic powerhouse, often dubbed as a “rising dragon,” is evident by compelling statistics and notable examples.

In terms of economic growth, China’s GDP has experienced exponential growth over the past few decades, averaging around 9 to 10 percent annually from the late 1970s to the early 2010s. By 2020, China became the world’s second-largest economy, surpassing Japan, and has maintained this position since then. This rapid growth has lifted millions of people out of poverty, with China achieving remarkable progress in poverty alleviation, reducing its poverty rate from over 88% in 1981 to less than 1% in recent years.

China’s economic prowess is further exemplified by its global trade dominance. The country has been the world’s largest exporter of goods since 2009, with a significant portion of global manufacturing shifting to China due to its competitive advantages in labor costs, infrastructure, and production capabilities. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), launched in 2013, is a testament to its ambition to enhance connectivity and promote trade and investment across Asia, Africa, and Europe, further solidifying its status as a global economic leader.

China’s technological advancements have been remarkable, with Chinese companies emerging as leaders in various sectors such as telecommunications, e-commerce, and digital technology. Companies like Huawei, Alibaba, and Tencent have achieved global recognition for their innovative products and services, while China’s investments in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, 5G telecommunications, and renewable energy are positioning it at the forefront of technological innovation.

On the military front, China has undertaken significant efforts to modernize its armed forces, investing heavily in advanced weaponry, naval capabilities, and space exploration. The country’s defense budget has seen consistent growth, making it the second-largest military spender globally. China’s assertiveness in territorial disputes, particularly in the South China Sea, underscores its ambition to assert itself as a regional and global military power, further cementing its status as a rising dragon on the world stage.

China’s remarkable economic growth, technological advancements, and military modernization are compelling indicators of its ascent as a rising dragon, shaping the geopolitical landscape and redefining the balance of power in the 21st century.

China’s 100th anniversary Plan 2049

“China’s 100th Anniversary Plan 2049” refers to the goals and aspirations that China aims to achieve by the year 2049, which would mark the centennial anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This concept is often associated with China’s vision for its future development and its evolving role on the global stage.

For example, China has set ambitious economic targets as part of its “Two Centenary Goals” and “Made in China 2025” initiatives, aiming to double its 2010 GDP by 2020 and become a global leader in advanced manufacturing and technology by 2025. By extending this trajectory to 2049, China may seek to further enhance its economic dominance, achieve technological self-reliance, and elevate its status as a global superpower.

In terms of military modernization, China has been investing heavily in its defense capabilities, including the development of advanced weaponry, expansion of its naval fleet, and modernization of its armed forces. By 2049, China may aspire to complete its military modernization efforts and establish itself as a preeminent military power capable of defending its sovereignty and projecting power globally.

Furthermore, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a prominent example of its efforts to expand its influence and connectivity on a global scale. By 2049, China may seek to further consolidate its economic ties and geopolitical influence through BRI projects, infrastructure investments, and diplomatic engagements across regions.

While these projections based on current trends and policies, they provide insights into potential areas of focus for China as it navigates towards its centennial anniversary in 2049.

One China Principle in Action

China has traditionally seen Taiwan as a province that separated from the mainland, with a goal to reunite the two by 2049. This ambition is fueled by China’s aspiration to assert its global superpower status, strengthen its power base, and counter any external forces that might aim to limit China’s growth. Taiwan’s strategic maritime position is also of significant interest to China, as taking control of Taiwan would extend China’s military reach and disrupt the US’s geographical security strategy known as the “island chain strategy”. Additionally, Taiwan’s economy is highly compatible with that of the mainland, adding to China’s interest.

Next, we look at Macau, which was leased to Portugal in 1557 as a trading post in return for an annual symbolic rent of 500 tael. Despite being under Chinese sovereignty and authority, the Portuguese began to consider and administer Macau as if it were a colony. In 1999, it was returned to China and is now a special administrative region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China. The return was part of China’s “one country, two systems” policy, which guarantees a “high degree of autonomy” for the regions for 50 years, with Beijing maintaining control of defense and foreign affairs.

Similarly, Hong Kong, a vibrant hub of Chinese culture and finance, was under British rule for many years until it rejoined China in 1997. The region of Hong Kong has been inhabited since the Old Stone Age, later becoming part of the Chinese Empire with its loose incorporation into the Qin dynasty (221–206 BC). The return of Hong Kong to China in 1997 was under the same “one country, two systems” framework as Macau. However, in recent years, Beijing has tightened its control over Hong Kong, dimming hopes that the financial center will ever become a full democracy.

Looking to the future, China has outlined a policy of strategic patience towards its objective of “reunification” with Taiwan. While Beijing keeps the door open to peace, it warns it could be compelled to use force. China’s commerce ministry has proposed building a specialized pilot free trade zone (FTZ) consisting of the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, and Macau to deepen opening-up and cooperation. It is quite likely that Beijing has a holistic plan of moving Macau-Hengqin zone and Hong Kong-Qianhai zone toward a possible territorial merger near the year of 2049 and 2047, respectively.

China’s takeover of Hong Kong and the resentment faced

The protests in Hong Kong, which began in 2019 in response to proposed extradition legislation, quickly evolved into a sweeping pro-democracy movement with millions of Hong Kong residents rallying to defend the city’s autonomy and fundamental freedoms. This movement reflected deep-seated concerns over Beijing’s encroachment on Hong Kong’s governance and legal system. However, the situation escalated significantly following the imposition of a controversial national security law in June 2020 by China. This law, which criminalizes acts of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces, was met with vehement opposition, triggering widespread resentment and unrest among Hong Kong residents. The enforcement of this law led to a crackdown on dissent, with pro-democracy activists, journalists, and critics facing arrests and legal actions. Prominent figures like Joshua Wong and Jimmy Lai were among those prosecuted, and many others now live in fear of reprisals or engage in self-censorship due to the law’s broad and ambiguous provisions. The erosion of freedom of expression, media independence, and civil liberties in Hong Kong has drawn international condemnation and are raising serious doubts about Hong Kong’s future autonomy and status as a global financial hub.

China’s assertive territorial claims backfired in case of Galwan Valley India

China’s assertive territorial claims have backfired notably in the case of its skirmish with India, particularly seen in the aftermath of the Galwan Valley clash in June 2020. This clash sparked a violent confrontation between Indian and Chinese troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Himalayas, resulting in casualties on both sides. Subsequently, there was a significant backlash against China within India, with widespread public and governmental calls for boycotts of Chinese goods, protests outside Chinese diplomatic missions, and increased scrutiny of Chinese investments and business interests in India. The incident prompted India to reassess its strategic posture and defense capabilities along the border with China, accelerating infrastructure development, troop deployments, and coordination with regional allies to counter Chinese assertiveness. Internationally, the Galwan Valley clash drew attention to China’s aggressive behavior and territorial expansionism, garnering expressions of solidarity with India from countries like the United States, Japan, Australia, and European nations.

South China sea tensions are distracting China

China is distracted from the vision of Den Xiao Ping’s developmental philosophy, “Hide your ability, bide your time.” Tensions in the South China Sea are indeed proving to be a significant distraction for China, diverting its attention, resources, and diplomatic efforts away from other strategic priorities. China’s assertive actions in the region, such as constructing artificial islands, deploying military assets, and asserting territorial claims, have heightened tensions with neighboring countries and attracted increased international scrutiny. The ongoing disputes with countries like Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia over territorial claims necessitate continuous diplomatic engagement and negotiation to manage tensions and prevent escalations, placing a considerable burden on Chinese diplomats and policymakers. Additionally, the presence of the United States and other Western powers conducting freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) in the South China Sea adds complexity, leading to periodic confrontations and diplomatic challenges for China. Given that the South China Sea is a crucial maritime trade route for China’s trade flows, any disruptions due to heightened tensions or conflicts could adversely impact China’s economy, requiring resources to ensure the security and stability of these vital trade routes. Despite having other strategic priorities like economic development and global influence, effectively managing tensions in the South China Sea remains a pressing challenge that demands significant attention and resources from China’s leadership, highlighting the delicate balancing act they face in pursuing multiple objectives.

China’s assertive behavior has led Philippine to adopt a defensive posture

China’s proactive measures in the South China Sea (SCS) have undeniably resulted in a considerable redirection of its strategic attention. The rising strain in the SCS, especially due to China’s creation of man-made islands and an increased military footprint, has called for a swift and strong reaction. This has led to a notable reallocation of resources and diplomatic endeavors to address the disputes in the SCS.

This shift in attention is also noticeable in China’s dealings with the Philippines. For example, China has shown discontent with the Philippines’ military expansion on Mavulis, the most northern island of the Batanes province, which is a mere 88 miles from Taiwan’s southern tip.

However, this shift in attention towards the SCS has repercussions for China’s stance towards Taiwan. While China persistently asserts sovereignty over Taiwan, the urgency of the SCS disputes has inevitably led to a relative shift of focus away from Taiwan.

In response to China’s actions, the Philippines has been compelled to strengthen its maritime security capabilities. This defensive approach is demonstrated by increased defense expenditure, with the Philippine government dedicating substantial resources to modernize its naval fleet and boost surveillance capabilities.

The Philippines has also reinforced its defense alliances in response to China’s proactive behavior. Enhanced defense collaboration with traditional allies, especially the United States and Japan, further underscores the defensive stance adopted by the Philippines. Joint military drills, intelligence exchange agreements, and capacity-building initiatives are concrete examples of this cooperative approach to bolstering regional security.

Furthermore, the Philippines has embarked on diplomatic efforts to counter China’s proactive behavior through legal channels and international forums. This highlights the Philippines’ dedication to maintaining the rule of law and defending its interests in the face of external threats.

More voices are added up against China’s territorial ambitions

More voices are increasingly joining the chorus of concern and opposition against China’s territorial ambitions, particularly in light of its assertive actions in the South China Sea. These voices represent a diverse array of stakeholders, including neighboring countries, international partners, and global institutions, all expressing apprehension about China’s expanding influence and aggressive behavior.

Neighboring countries such as Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei have been vocal in expressing their concerns about China’s expansive maritime claims and encroachments in the South China Sea. They have raised objections to China’s construction of artificial islands, militarization of disputed features, and violations of their exclusive economic zones. Vietnam, for instance, has pursued diplomatic and legal avenues to challenge China’s actions, while the Philippines has sought international arbitration to uphold its maritime rights.

Outside the region, major powers like the United States, Japan, Australia, and European nations have also voiced opposition to China’s territorial ambitions and maritime assertiveness. These countries have conducted freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs), issued statements of support for affected countries, and imposed sanctions on Chinese entities engaged in destabilizing activities.

Moreover, international bodies such as the United Nations, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the European Union have issued statements calling for peaceful resolution of disputes, adherence to international norms, and respect for freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea.

As these voices continue to grow in opposition, they play a crucial role in shaping the future trajectory of maritime affairs in the Indo-Pacific region.

Grey zones are diminishing

The diminishing of “grey zones” in geopolitics is increasingly evident through efforts to address longstanding disputes and ambiguities using diplomatic channels, legal mechanisms, and confidence-building measures.

A prominent example is the resolution of maritime disputes in the South China Sea. Historically, overlapping territorial claims and strategic interests among countries like China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia created significant grey areas in the region. However, recent bilateral negotiations, multilateral dialogues within ASEAN, and the 2016 arbitration ruling in favor of the Philippines against China have helped clarify maritime boundaries and reduce uncertainties. The ruling invalidated many of China’s expansive claims, providing legal clarity on disputed features and maritime entitlements.

Similarly, territorial disputes have been resolved through bilateral agreements and confidence-building measures. India and Bangladesh successfully resolved their maritime boundary dispute through arbitration, leading to the delineation of exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and the resolution of overlapping claims. Japan and Russia have engaged in diplomatic negotiations over the Kuril Islands, exploring joint economic activities and confidence-building measures to reduce tensions.

Efforts to enhance maritime security cooperation and promote transparency have also contributed to diminishing grey zones. Initiatives like the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES), adopted by navies in the Asia-Pacific region, aim to prevent incidents at sea through standardized communication and maneuvering procedures. Additionally, initiatives such as the Maritime Security Initiative (MSI) and the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) facilitate information-sharing and collaboration among navies to address common security challenges and build trust.

While grey zones may persist in some regions, these examples highlight how diplomatic efforts and confidence-building measures are reducing uncertainties and mitigating the risk of conflict in geopolitically sensitive areas. As countries continue to engage in dialogue and cooperation, there is potential for further diminishing grey zones and promoting stability and security in contested areas.

Strategic Role of the Philippines to Thwart China’s ambitions in SCS

The Philippines holds a crucial position in the geopolitical landscape of the Asia-Pacific region, especially in relation to China’s aspirations concerning Taiwan. Its strategic location serves as a potential bottleneck that could hinder China’s military and economic operations. For example, approximately 60 large crude-oil carriers, fully loaded, traverse daily between the Persian Gulf and Chinese ports, transporting about half of the oil that fuels the world’s second-largest economy. These tankers are vulnerable when crossing the Indian Ocean, a naval theatre under U.S. dominance. In a significant conflict, Chinese oil tankers in the Indian Ocean could find themselves in a precarious situation.

The U.S. Department of Defense has identified six scenarios that could trigger China to initiate large-scale military action against Taiwan. These include a formal declaration of independence by Taiwan, an ambiguous move towards Taiwan’s independence, internal instability within Taiwan, Taiwan acquiring nuclear weapons or initiating a program to develop one, indefinite postponement in the resumption of cross-strait dialogue on unification, and foreign military intervention in Taiwan’s internal affairs. In a full-scale conflict, the tankers, capable of carrying 2 million barrels of oil, would be valuable assets to be seized or destroyed.

In the event of a conflict between China and Taiwan, the Philippines’ strategic location could serve as a potential chokepoint that could disrupt China’s military and economic activities. The Philippines is the nearest country to Taiwan among the five Indo-Pacific allies of the United States. In the event of an invasion, the initial 48 hours are critical, as this is the period during which China would capitalize on its geographic proximity, and it would take some time before the American Navy Indo-Pacific Command, whether it’s in Hawaii, Guam, or Japan, could respond to a major contingency.

The Philippines could significantly alter China’s calculations by simply monitoring Taiwan closely and serving as a lookout for its allies, even without committing its own troops to such a conflict. If the Philippines, Japan, and the U.S. collaborate, there would be adequate preparation, a sufficient American forward deployment presence, and enough interoperability and potential coordination among the U.S. and its allies, should an invasion occur.

Furthermore, the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America, signed on August 30, 1951, mandates mutual support if either the Philippines or the United States were to be attacked. This treaty could potentially involve the U.S. in a conflict if China decides to invade Taiwan, adding complexity to China’s plans.

The potential for the Philippines to disrupt China’s military and economic activities, coupled with the possibility of drawing the U.S. into a conflict, indeed makes it an Achilles’ heel in China’s ambitious plans.

Analysis

Why Marcos South China Sea Policy is better than Duterte?

Why Marcos South China Sea Policy is better than Duterte?

The geopolitical landscape of Southeast Asia is characterized by a complex interplay of national interests, historical tensions, and the strategic maneuverings of global powers. In this scenario, the South China Sea stands out as a particularly contentious region, with overlapping territorial claims and significant economic and security implications. As regional dynamics evolve, so too do the foreign policies of the countries involved. In this context, the Philippines has seen a marked shift in its approach from the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte to that of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. While Duterte’s tenure was noted for its conciliatory stance towards China, Marcos Jr. has adopted a more assertive policy, aligning more closely with the United States and emphasizing the defense of Philippine sovereignty. This shift reflects broader strategic calculations in response to China’s growing assertiveness and the need for stronger defense capabilities. The contrast between the two administrations provides a compelling case study in how nations balance between cooperation and confrontation in pursuit of their national interests.

Background: Duterte’s Approach

As the successor to President Aquino III, President Duterte adopted a markedly more cooperative stance toward China, seeking to avoid conflict over maritime sovereignty. Despite the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling largely favoring the Philippines, Duterte refrained from pursuing these convictions aggressively. Instead, he implemented pragmatic strategies rooted in Realpolitik and Rational Choice, shifting Philippine foreign policy from confrontation to a more nuanced approach. He preferred bilateral discussions over multilateral forums and supported China’s Belt and Road Initiative, aligning with his “Back to Domestic; Build, Build, and Build” campaign slogan focused on economic development and infrastructure. Duterte’s inward-looking strategy relied heavily on Chinese economic incentives to enhance the Philippines’ prosperity. This recalibrated foreign policy aimed for mutual benefits: China restrained the Philippines from assertively acting on the PCA ruling, while the Philippines gained economic and political advantages from Chinese infrastructure investments. Duterte’s approach strained the long-standing US-Philippines relationship, reflecting his vision for a multipolar world order and a distinct regional identity. This independent foreign policy garnered global attention and criticism, revealing the complex trade-offs and uncertainties involved. Consequently, the Philippines’ stance on SCS maritime and territorial claims softened under Duterte’s leadership.

Marcos Jr.’ Policy Shift

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has notably shifted Manila closer to the United States, diverging sharply from the path of his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte. Marcos appears to be the first Southeast Asian leader to decisively choose between the United States and China. Given the Philippines’ precarious position in the South China Sea and China’s growing regional dominance, Marcos Jr. may have concluded that maintaining a balance is no longer feasible and that, in the event of conflict, unwavering support from Washington is essential. The rising harassment of Philippine boats and marines stationed on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal by China has severely infuriated Marcos Jr., with incidents increasing recently.

In response to these challenges in the West Philippine Sea, President Marcos Jr. reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to maintaining Philippine sovereignty and defending its territory. At the 21st International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, he declared, “We will never allow anyone to detach it from the totality of the maritime domain that renders our nation whole.” Marcos emphasized that he has vowed to uphold this grave responsibility since his first day in office, stating, “I’m not going to give up. Filipinos are unyielding.” He reiterated that the government would make every effort to safeguard the Philippines’ territorial integrity in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2016 Arbitral Award. “International law, not our imagination, is the source of the boundaries we draw on our waters,” he asserted.

Marcos highlighted that the Philippines defines its boundaries based on international law, not “baseless claims.” He outlined the country’s intentions to improve its defense capabilities and strengthen its ties with foreign nations during his keynote speech at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue. He emphasized that the Philippines would enhance its ability to safeguard its interests in both the global commons and its maritime domain as part of the Comprehensive Archipelagic Defense Concept. “We will strengthen our ability to safeguard our interests in the global commons and in our own maritime domain as we work to preserve the rule of law in international affairs,” Marcos declared.

He stressed that diplomacy would continue to be a key component of building the Philippines’ defense capabilities. President Marcos also reaffirmed that ASEAN Centrality would remain a fundamental component of the country’s foreign policy. He noted that the Philippines would strengthen strategic alliances with Australia, Japan, and Vietnam, in addition to its relationship with the United States. The country would also seek closer ties with partners like the Republic of Korea and India. Marcos pointed out that cooperative efforts involving a small number of governments with common interests could “build into pillars that support the architecture of regional stability.” He mentioned pursuing trilateral cooperation in the Celebes Sea with Indonesia and Malaysia and expanding collaboration in the exclusive economic zone with Australia, Japan, and the United States.

Over the past year, the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone has been repeatedly targeted by China’s coast guard and allied fishing vessels, further straining relations between the two countries. Marcos stated that he has been in communication with “friends in the international community” and has met with his defense and security officers to ensure peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific. “They have offered to help us with what the Philippines requires to protect and secure our sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction,” he said.

The deterioration of ties with China coincides with Marcos’s efforts to strengthen defense ties with the US. Beijing is displeased with his expanded US access to military sites in the Philippines and the inclusion of joint exercises involving air and sea patrols over the South China Sea. The US-Philippines treaty obliges both nations to defend one another in the event of an attack, covering coastguard, civilian, and military vessels in the South China Sea.

Key Actions Under Marcos Jr.

Marcos Jr. emphasized Manila’s right to utilize South China Sea energy resources without first engaging China in a statement released on December 1, 2022. He vowed to “fight” for the rights that belong to his country. Given that the Philippines depend largely on imported fuel, his comments highlighted the urgency of exploring for oil and gas in the strategically significant sea. In the face of a more divided Southeast Asia, Marcos Jr. has resorted to striking a balance between his relations with China and the United States. However, sustaining strategic ambiguity is becoming more and more of a difficult balancing act every day. Beijing is applying more and more pressure. Chinese rocket debris was taken by force from the Philippine Navy in November by the Chinese coast guard.

In order to restart the nation’s slow economic growth, the new president desperately had to acquire investments amidst a severe financial crisis made worse by the pandemic. Beijing might be a trustworthy source, but Chinese investments and the sovereignty risks they pose are touchy political subjects. Protests by the general public against Chinese influence are not unusual in the Philippines, and they may pose a threat to the legitimacy of Marcos Jr.’s administration.

Asia’s strictest foreign investment regulations, found in the Philippines, limit foreign ownership in numerous areas to 40%. This restriction complicates potential agreements on oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea, even if the Philippines and China were to reach an understanding. Although both nations have shown interest in collaborating with non-governmental organizations for joint exploration, disputed claims have prevented Manila’s PXP Energy Corp, which holds exploration permits in the contested Reed Bank, from finalizing a mutually beneficial deal with China’s National Offshore Oil Corp.

The situation is further complicated by increased U.S. engagement with the Philippines. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. allowed U.S. forces access to four additional Philippine military facilities, raising the total to nine. Under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), U.S. troops are permitted to rotate indefinitely for joint training, equipment prepositioning, and infrastructure development, including runways, fuel storage, and military housing. This move aligns with the Biden administration’s strategy of strengthening a regional security network to counter China, as well as with Philippines efforts to enhance its external defense, particularly in the South China Sea.

China reacted strongly to this development, particularly since two of the new U.S. locations are near Taiwan and southern China. Beijing accused the Philippines of providing staging areas for U.S. military operations, thereby compromising Chinese security. In response, Marcos stated that his administration has no plans to grant the U.S. access to additional military bases. He emphasized that China’s aggressive actions in the disputed South China Sea initially prompted the U.S. military presence in several Philippine camps and locations. At a press conference with foreign correspondents in Manila, Marcos clarified, “The Philippines has no plans to create any more bases or give access to any more bases.”

When questioned about whether the presence of U.S. forces had provoked Chinese actions in the South China Sea, Marcos maintained that American troops were there in response to China’s actions. He cited incidents where Chinese coast guard ships used water cannons and lasers to block Philippine vessels. “These are reactions to what has happened in the South China Sea, to the aggressive actions that we have had to deal with,” he stated. China, on the other hand, blamed the Philippines for instigating conflicts by intruding into its territorial seas and violating an alleged agreement to remove an old Philippine navy vessel stationed at the disputed Second Thomas Shoal. Marcos denied knowledge of any such agreement and declared it void if it ever existed.

Marcos emphasized that the Philippines must take more concrete actions beyond lodging protests concerning incidents in the South China Sea. He referred to a recent event where the Chinese coast guard blocked a routine troop supply run to the Second Thomas Shoal, resulting in a serious injury to a Philippine sailor. While Marcos condemned this as an illegal action, he noted that it did not constitute an armed attack. Despite filing numerous protests, he stressed the need for more substantial measures.

End Note

The contrast between the South China Sea policies of Duterte and Marcos Jr. signify the evolving nature of the Philippines’ approach to maritime sovereignty and international diplomacy. Duterte’s strategy prioritized economic gains through cooperation with China, often at the cost of territorial assertiveness and strained traditional alliances. In contrast, Marcos Jr.’s policy shift reflects a robust defense of Philippine sovereignty, reinforced by stronger ties with the United States and other regional allies. This strategic realignment addresses the immediate challenges posed by China’s assertiveness while positioning the Philippines as a proactive player in maintaining regional stability and upholding international law. As the geopolitical landscape continues to shift, the Marcos administration’s balanced yet assertive stance may provide a more sustainable and secure path for the Philippines in the contentious waters of the South China Sea.

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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

Philippines Accuses Chinese Ships of Blocking Medical Evacuation

Philippines Accuses Chinese Ships of Blocking Medical Evacuation

I. Introduction

The South China Sea has been a hotbed of territorial disputes for years, with several countries including China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei claiming overlapping parts of the maritime region. The area is rich in natural resources and is a vital commercial waterway, making it a strategic point of contention. One such disputed area is the Second Thomas Shoal, known as Ayungin Shoal in the Philippines and Renai Reef in China. The shoal is within the 200-nautical mile (370km) exclusive economic zone of the Philippines but is also claimed by China.

II. Details of the Incident

On July 10, 2024, the Philippines accused Chinese vessels of trying to block the evacuation of a sick soldier from an “illegally grounded warship” at Second Thomas Shoal. The Philippine Navy stated that the patient was taken from the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusting vessel that was run aground at Second Thomas Shoal 25 years ago, to Camp Ricarte Station Hospital in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. The Philippine coastguard claimed it had “faced numerous obstructing and delaying manoeuvres” by its Chinese counterpart but “remained steadfast”. This incident marked another escalation in the ongoing territorial dispute between the two nations.

III. Philippine Government’s Response

The Philippine government has strongly condemned the alleged actions of the Chinese vessels. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) lodged a diplomatic protest against China, calling the incident a “blatant infringement of Philippine sovereignty”. The incident has also stirred up nationalist sentiments among the Philippine public, putting pressure on the government to take a tougher stance against China.

IV. China’s Reaction

China rebuked the Philippines, accusing it of “deliberately misleading” the international community. In a statement, the China Coast Guard said it had allowed the Philippines to evacuate the ill person under “humanitarian considerations” and had “monitored and verified” their actions in accordance with the law. Chinese coastguard spokesman Gan Yu stated that the “relevant Philippine parties ignored the facts, maliciously hyped up [accusations], and deliberately misled international cognition”. He affirmed that China had “indisputable sovereignty” over the Nansha Islands, also known as the Spratly Islands, including Renai Reef and its surrounding waters.

V. International Reactions

The escalating tensions between China and the Philippines have drawn international attention and elicited responses from various leaders and experts. Collin Koh, a maritime affairs expert at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, suggests that a second legal defeat for China in the international court would not reflect well on China’s reputation. He believes that the seven years since the last international ruling is a long time, and a new case building on the previous one would inject renewed vigor into global scrutiny of China’s actions in the South China Sea.

US President Joe Biden has warned China that the US will defend the Philippines in case of any attack in the disputed South China Sea. This reiteration of the US’s “ironclad” defense commitment to the Philippines underscores the geopolitical implications of the dispute.

VI. Historical Context

The South China Sea dispute is not a recent development but has deep historical roots. The region has been a point of contention for centuries, with various Southeast Asian nations asserting their claims over different parts of the sea. The modern dispute, however, can be traced back to the 20th century when several nations began to assert their sovereignty over the islands and reefs in the South China Sea.

The Second Thomas Shoal, in particular, has been a flashpoint in the dispute. The Philippines grounded the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusting naval vessel, on the shoal in 1999 to reinforce its claim. China, however, views this as an illegal occupation and has maintained a constant maritime presence around the shoal.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines in a case against China’s claims in the South China Sea. The court declared China’s “nine-dash line” claim, which covers nearly the entire South China Sea, as having no legal basis. However, China rejected the ruling, and the decision did not lead to a significant change in the status quo.

VII. Analysis

The ongoing dispute between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea has significant geopolitical implications. For China, asserting its claims in the South China Sea is a matter of national pride and a demonstration of its growing global power. It is also strategically important due to the sea’s rich natural resources and its importance as a commercial waterway.

For the Philippines, the dispute is about protecting its territorial integrity and its rights to exploit the resources within its exclusive economic zone. The recent incident could further strain Philippines-China relations and push the Philippines to seek stronger security ties with other countries, particularly the United States.

The involvement of international leaders and organizations like the US, ASEAN, and Japan further complicates the issue. The US, in particular, has been vocal in its support for the Philippines and its opposition to China’s assertive actions in the South China Sea. This could potentially escalate tensions between the US and China, two of the world’s superpowers.

VIII. Conclusion

The South China Sea dispute continues to be a complex issue involving territorial claims, national pride, and international law. The recent incident involving the Philippines and China is just the latest in a series of escalating tensions in the region.

As tensions escalate, it is crucial for all parties involved to engage in peaceful dialogue and negotiations to prevent further conflicts. The role of international law and multilateral institutions is also critical in resolving these disputes and ensuring the preservation of the region’s rich biodiversity.

However, the resolution of the South China Sea dispute is not just about resolving territorial claims. It is also about managing the rise of China as a global power, maintaining regional stability, and upholding the rules-based international order. The way this dispute is handled could set a precedent for other territorial disputes around the world and shape the future of international relations in the Indo-Pacific region.

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