As a concerned world watches the heightened tension that China has yet again dialed up in the East China Sea off the Senkaku Islands, the Chinese Ministry of National Defense announced the formal addition of its first aircraft carrier to the country’s military arsenal yesterday.
That, combined with the failure of recent talks between Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and Filipino Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas over the disputed Scarborough Shoal, underscores China’s persistent and dangerous commitment to brinksmanship over its extralegal territorial claims—and, by comparison, the sad lack of resources at the Philippines’ disposal to protect its sovereignty across its sizable territory.
In a new Heritage report as part of a series illustrating the need for a stronger Philippine military, Renato De Castro and Walter Lohman point out that even as the government of the Philippines has pursued an earnest commitment to shift over from an internal security focus to that of territorial defense, it is faced with aging or non-existent naval and air military resources. China has taken advantage of this weak Filipino capability.
With no fighter jets, trained fighter pilots, logistics training, or associated basing facilities, the Philippine air force does not have the capacity to effectively monitor—let alone defend—Philippine airspace.
Over the last two years, there have been numerous incidents in the South China Sea involving Chinese intrusions into disputed areas, but the Philippine navy lacks the ships necessary for active maritime patrols to prevent or deter intrusions.
More broadly, as part of what the Chinese call the “first island chain,” the Philippines has a front-row seat to China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea. But it is ill equipped to defend its own or contribute to securing the freedom of navigation in international waterways that Chinese claims threaten.
Building up a strong, reliable ally that is a credible defense against encroachment and a force for stability is in the Philippines’ best interest and that of United States.
Alice Chao is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm.