More countries are offering to conduct joint patrols with the Philippines in the South China Sea.
The United States, Japan and Australia have already been pushing for “joint sail” missions with the Philippines in the disputed waterway. Last week, the spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said Malaysia, France, India, Canada and Singapore were also keen on the idea.
The prospect of holding joint patrols was thrust into the limelight following the escalation of intrusions by Chinese coast guard and maritime militia vessels in the West Philippine Sea. In recent weeks the Ayungin Shoal has been the target of Chinese efforts to stake its claim on territory to which the Philippines has sovereign rights.
Chinese ships have been blockading the entrance to the shoal to ward off attempts to deliver supplies to the military outpost there. Resupply boats have been playing a deadly cat-and-mouse game with Chinese vessels to preserve the lifeline for the Philippine troops stationed at Ayungin.
The harassment by Chinese vessels, which includes the firing of a water cannon at a Philippine boat, has been documented on video as evidence of the brazen disregard for Philippine sovereignty.
Beijing has been unmoved by the close to a hundred diplomatic protests filed by Manila and continues to build up its flotilla of military and fishing vessels in the West Philippine Sea.
Military experts agree that jointly patrolling the tension-roiled waters could be an effective deterrent against Chinese intimidation and harassment.
In April 2016, the US Navy revealed it was conducting joint patrols with the Philippines in the South China Sea. The US defense secretary at the time, Ash Carter, explained that the patrols “contribute to the safety and security of the region’s waters.”
Carter also said the US would increase the rotations of its forces and military aid in the Philippines.
The joint patrols were conducted at a time when China was expanding its military presence in the region by fortifying islets and atolls that it was claiming as its own.
The joint patrols were called off after then-president Rodrigo Duterte shifted the country’s foreign policy away from the US and aligned it toward China.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has since pivoted back to the US, and Washington has wasted no time rebuilding the frayed security and defense cooperation with Manila.
Last May, Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez said the Philippines was “continuing discussions” for joint patrols in the South China Sea with the US and Australia, probably by the third quarter of 2023.
AFP chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said the interest of other countries in conducting naval patrols was a sign of growing support for a rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific region.
Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. emphasized the importance of alliances amid “the changing threat situation” in the West Philippine Sea.
Amid the burst of optimism over the show of support for joint patrols, AFP Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos presents the sobering reality of reviewing the proposals and the daunting task of getting everyone on the same page.
“No decision has been made about a joint patrol. However, we’re pleased that these countries support and share our position, and they’re willing to help. That’s the essential part: their willingness to assist. Whether we accept their assistance remains undetermined, as no guidelines are in place,” Carlos said.
Any agreement on holding joint sail missions must be carefully calibrated. For one, the rules of engagement must be clearly defined to avoid a full-scale confrontation in the already volatile sea lane.
It is comforting to note that our allies and nations, which espouse a rules-based order in the South China Sea, have expressed their willingness to help the Philippines defend its borders. They provide us with the deterrence to stand up to China’s expansionist ambitions.
Deterrence goes hand in hand with diplomacy as a “reinforcing concept” in preventing and settling conflicts.
In the words of the Irish statesman Martin McGuiness, “There are no military solutions — dialogue and diplomacy are the only guarantee of lasting peace.”
Source : Manila Times