Joint patrols to secure Philippine waters
Just a few days after the state visit of President Marcos Jr. to China, where he met Chinese President Xi Jinping and assured him that Filipino fishermen would not be prevented from fishing in the area, reports broke out that a Chinese Coast Guard ship drove Filipino fishermen away from Ayungin Shoal.
This is yet another incident to add to the plethora of diplomatic protests against China, and should prompt the Philippines to adopt a more responsive security strategy. Key to this is understanding Beijing’s workings and geopolitical motivations.
Our recent Stratbase ADR Institute (ADRi) roundtable entitled “The strategic position of the Philippines in the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific” traced the increasingly complex and changing dynamics of the region, and how the government should act in alignment with like-minded states. Lowy Institute senior fellow for East Asia Richard McGregor said the idea that China will replace the United States as a hegemon makes little sense, because China has disputes with many countries including South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Taiwan.
“There are so few countries that trust China. It simply does not have the trust of its neighboring countries to allow it to exercise the kind of role that Americans have,” McGregor said. He warns: “We are moving into a very difficult period as these quite natural and intractable conflicts try to work themselves out. The maritime situation in Asia will be highly unstable in the next decade or two.”
To promote a free and open Indo-Pacific, cooperation in terms of defense and security is critical in responding to the emergence of both traditional and nontraditional security challenges, such as the growing aggressiveness of China, the tensions in the Taiwan Strait, the continued missile launches of North Korea, and Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine.
As Chinese violations of our national sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea persist, this administration must capitalize on its existing alliances and the increased interest of major regional players.
A national survey conducted by Pulse Asia Research Inc. and commissioned by the Stratbase ADRi from Nov. 27 to Dec. 1, 2022, showed that approximately 80 percent of Filipinos believe that the capability of the country’s military, especially the Navy and Coast Guard, must be strengthened, and that joint maritime patrols and military exercises should be conducted with allied countries. The survey also revealed that majority of Filipinos believe that the Marcos Jr. administration should work with allies such as Australia and the United States to strengthen security cooperation and defend national sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea.
This should be enough impetus for our government to engage with the United States, Australia, Japan, and India as a strategy to assert our rights in our territory.
The recent visit of US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III reaffirmed his country’s commitment to the Philippines under the Mutual Defense Treaty, and reiterated that the US would support the Philippines in case of attacks. He and his counterpart, Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., discussed concrete actions to address destabilizing activities in the waters surrounding the Philippines.
The Pentagon itself, in a news release, said that the two defense officials agreed to restart joint maritime patrols in the South China Sea to address shared security challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, and that they would meet again in the spring of this year to discuss the planned patrol operations. The Philippines and the US are more than allies, Austin said. “We’re family.”
Expectedly, Beijing has reacted by twitting this visit as a destabilizing move by Washington.
Mr. Marcos and his new set of well-respected defense leaders are accountable for safeguarding the country’s maritime territory. While the modernization of the country’s defense capabilities remains challenged by limited resources, working with friends and allies through joint maritime patrols in the West Philippine Sea will help enforce our national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Similarly, cooperation at a multilateral or minilateral level ensures the promotion of a rules-based international order that the world needs amidst the geopolitical and difficult economic dynamics of these times.
Dindo Manhit is founder and CEO of the Stratbase Group.
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