US emboldening Philippines to square off with China at sea – Asia Times

US emboldening Philippines to square off with China at sea - Asia Times

On May 5, 2024, US Marines and Filipino counterparts staged a mock battle in a small, isolated territory 100 miles off Taiwan’s southern border.

The Philippines and the United States ‘ marine, atmosphere, and ground forces are collaborating in the combat drill, which also includes tactics from Australia and France.

The goal is to show a united front against China, which Washington and Manila perceive as a risk to the area, with a “maritime attack” on May 8 where a decommissioned ship was sunk and activities to repel an advancing international troops. Balikatan is Tagalog for” shoulder to shoulder”.

Annual Joint Philippines-US Naval Exercises are now a thing of the past. However, as an expert on foreign relations, I think the South China Sea’s maneuvers this year represent a turning point in local politics.

Ships participating in the practice made the first sorties outside the 12-mile boundary that defines the Philippines ‘ territorial waters. This expands military operations to the gray area where China’s “nine-dash line” refers to the country’s unique economic area.

An infographic shows a map of the South China Sea and surrounding countries, with their claims to the waters represented by dotted lines.
Map: Omar Zaghloul / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images / The Talk

For the first time, the US installed a cutting-edge mobile app for nuclear and cruise missiles with channel selection, which were previously prohibited by the now-defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. In contrast, the Spanish Navy is showing off its newest consolidation, a Southern Asian- built missile ship.

The South China Sea has long been the cause of sea disputes between China, which claims the vast majority of its waters, and countries including Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.

The South China Sea has also grown in importance because of rising tensions over Taiwan, which the Biden administration has pledged to support physically in the event of a Chinese war.

Isolation at water

The most recent combined maneuvers arrive at the same time as two other improvements that might have an impact on how much tensions will increase in the South China Sea in the future. Second, the US is significantly determined to establish regional alliances as part of a strategy to have China, and the Philippines has become more assertive in its opposition to China’s claims in the region.

More powerful than ever, the Philippines-US position. US ships and military plane once more work from bases in the Philippines after a brief break during Rodrigo Duterte’s president from 2016 to 2016.

In earlier 2023, combined naval patrols were resumed. The north Batanes islands, which are the focus of the country’s recent joint operations, were granted unprecedented access to Manila at the same time.

Washington has also stepped up its opposition to China’s criticism of the Philippines.

The far-flung islands, reefs, and reefs that Manila had claimed for seven decades after the Philippines and US signed the Mutual Defense Treaty in 1951 had been carefully avoided by US officials.

Just Mike Pompeo, the then-secretary of state, made the claim that the agreement covers the entire geographic area under which the Philippines asserts its independence in March 2019.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Joe Biden, the US military’s two biggest foundations, opened up more outposts in the Philippines in February 2023. The two leaders made it clear that military attacks that took place “anywhere in the South China Sea” are covered by the Mutual Defense Treaty in May.

Causing tides, rocking the ship

The Philippines ‘ firmer relations to the US have come with more aggressive behavior. The Philippine Coast Guard established boundary lighthouses in the area of Whitsun Reef, which had previously been the site of a fierce conflict with China’s coastal army, in May 2023.

Men in fatigues stand by a missile launcher.
US troops plan to fire an M777 gun during a life- fire training in Laur, Nueva Ecija state, Philippines. Photo: Ezra Acayan / Getty Images via The Talk

Three months later, it was revealed in reviews that Asian marines intended to build lasting bases close to Scarborough Shoal, which was in a heated three months later.

And a Spanish Coast Guard fleet, with the captain of the country’s military forces aboard, approached Scarborough Shoal in November, before being forced to retreat by Chinese maritime military vessels.

The Philippines installed electric surveillance products on Thitu Island, which is located just outside Scarborough Shoal in the center of a swarm of disputed rocks, in January 2024, breaking with its commitment to the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

Following this, it was made public plans to construct desalination plants on Second Thomas Shoal, Nanshan Island, and Thitu, making it possible to keep lasting troops on these remote outposts.

Manila has continued to argue its sea rights by announcing that mining and exploration activities will be escorted by the special economic zone by the armed forces.

Following these actions, there were also controversial acts by the Philippine navy, including a corvette stationed close to Palawan Island and a shared flyover by Philippine warplanes and a heavy bomber from the US Air Force B-52.

A ship of Chinese messages

It is obvious that Manila now has the confidence to carry out a variety of aggressive works against China as a result of the strengthening of Philippines-US relationships. The question is, to what ends?

A more confrontational Philippines might help the US plan to stop Beijing from expanding its influence in the South China Sea and starting a Taiwan war, according to experts in Washington.

However, it’s possible that Beijing’s heightened hostility will lead to a more hostile attitude, which could hurt regional security.

Beijing has increased the number of vessels it deploys in the South China Sea and intensified its sea operations around Thitu Island, Next Thomas Shoal, and Iroquois Reef, all of which the Philippines considers to be its sovereign territory.

Two Taiwanese research ships entered Benham Rise, a resource-rich shelf off the eastern coast of the Philippines, in the early morning hours of March 2024, to intercept the ship. A weapon ship of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, which for the first day launched a plane over a beach near Thitu, harassed a Philippines Coast Guard cutter while surveying a shoal near Thitu.

No public actions have been taken by Washington to lessen the hostilities between Beijing and Manila. Instead, Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed total- throated assistance for “our impenetrable protection commitments” during a middle- March 2024 stopover in Manila.

Reassured of US backing, Marcos has amped up the rhetoric, proclaiming that Manila would respond to any troublemaking on Beijing’s part by implementing a” countermeasure package that is proportionate, deliberate and reasonable”. ” Filipinos”, he added, “do not yield”.

Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., and Joe Biden, both from the Philippines, enter the White House in Washington, DC. Photo: Twitter / Screengrab / Pool

Such an approach, according to Marcos, was now feasible due to the US and its regional allies offering” to help us on what the Philippines requires to protect and secure our sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction”.

The downside is that as the Philippines becomes more assured thanks to US support, its dealings with China may become careless.

China may only grow more worried about its continued access to the South China Sea, through which almost all of its energy imports and most of its exports flow, despite the deepening Philippines-US alignment and associated Filipino assertiveness acting as a deterrent to China’s expansion.

And there is little to suggest that Washington will be able to stop Manila from confronting China in the South China Sea.

To Beijing, the prospect of an emboldened Philippines forging active strategic partnerships with Australia, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and – most troublesome of all – Taiwan makes the situation all the more perilous.

Fred H Lawson is Professor of Government Emeritus, Northeastern University

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