U.S. and Allies Must Expand Cooperation with the Philippines

As China attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion in the South China Sea, the Philippines — located on the front line — is becoming increasingly important. To ensure regional stability, it is essential for the Philippines to expand security cooperation with Japan, the United States and Australia.

Beijing has continued its aggressive maritime expansion in the South China Sea and turned artificial islands into military bases, taking advantage of the power vacuum created by the withdrawal of U.S. forces stationed in the Philippines after the end of the Cold War.

China Coast Guard vessels have escalated provocations in the South China Sea, such as by pointing laser beams at a Philippine Coast Guard ship.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office last year, has become increasingly alarmed about this situation, and has moved to strengthen security cooperation with the United States, reversing the policy of the previous administration, which took a conciliatory approach toward China. The Philippines has announced it will add four bases in the country where U.S. forces can be stationed on a rotational basis.

The candidate sites for the four bases announced on April 3 include a base in the northern part of Luzon near Taiwan and an island near the Spratly Islands, whose territorial rights are disputed by China.

Once the bases are set, the U.S. military will be able to respond more flexibly in the event of a contingency in Taiwan. The hubs would also facilitate increased vigilance and monitoring of Chinese vessels, and rescue operations in the event of a large-scale disaster in the region. The new development will likely lead to an increase in U.S. military influence and hold China in check.

At the Philippine Air Force base near Manila, renovation of the runway has begun with U.S. financial assistance. This month, the largest-ever U.S.-Philippine joint military exercise and the first foreign and defense ministerial-level talks in about seven years are scheduled. It is hoped the United States and the Philippines will make steady progress on their alliance.

The strategic importance of the Philippines to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific and ensure the safety of sea-lanes is increasing. For this reason, Japan, Australia and India have begun to strengthen security cooperation with the Philippines.

The Japan Coast Guard has been training the Philippine Coast Guard to subdue ships and other vessels that intrude into its territorial waters, and the Self-Defense Forces have been expanding joint training with the Philippine military.

Australia and the Philippines are considering joint patrols in the South China Sea. India reportedly plans to provide the Philippines with surface-to-ship cruise missiles, which would be the first time for the Philippines to deploy anti-ship cruise missiles.

It is not realistic to leave it to the United States alone to maintain stability in the South China Sea. With the Philippines as a foothold, the United States and its allies should strengthen their cooperation to make deterrence against China more effective. This kind of common understanding has certainly led to multifaceted cooperation.

China is opposed to a series of events that would expand cooperation, but it should recognize that this is the result of its own destruction of the rule-based maritime order.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 10, 2023)