The Philippines is Still Balancing Against China Amid Duterte’s Pivot
By Renato Cruz de Castro / November 02, 2016 / The Diplomat
Since President Rodrigo Duterte’s state visit to Beijing last week, many analysts and observers have concluded that the Philippines have turned away from its traditional treaty ally, the United States and have totally embraced China. During the visit, Duterte announced his separation from the United States and declared that he had realigned with China as the two countries agreed to resolve their South China Sea dispute through bilateral negotiations. Immediately this event was seen as a big win for China and it will enable it to consolidate its growing political clout in East Asia.
The more recent actions by the Duterte Administration, however, indicate that despite its political alignment with China, the Philippines is still strengthening the capabilities of its coast guard and navy with the help of other major powers.
During his working visit in Japan, President Duterte discussed maritime security cooperation with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He also sought Japan’s assistance for the capacity-building and additional patrol vessels for the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG). At the same time, the Philippine government signed an agreement with South Korean shipbuilding company, Hyundai Heavy Industries, for the construction and delivery of two missile-equipped frigates for the Philippine Navy (PN). These actions are clear indicators that despite the détente in Philippine-China political/diplomatic relations and the establishment of what some might term an “economic alliance” between the Philippines and China, the Philippines is keeping its powder dry in terms of maritime security.
Building the PCG
During his three-day official visit to Japan, Duterte sought Japan’s support for joint ventures in key infrastructure development, especially in terms of harnessing Japanese expertise in developing high-quality and modern public transportation system. More significantly, he also engaged the prime minister in a discussion of greater politico-social and defense cooperation, particularly in maritime domain awareness and maritime security.
During his visit, he signed the Exchange of Notes on Japanese Official Development Assistance for the provision of two large-scale patrol vessels that were given aside from the ten patrol vessels that Tokyo is in the processing of delivering to the PCG. Japan’s provision of the two 90-meter patrol vessels will boost the capabilities of the PCG, since white ships are often used on the front line of the various territorial dispute in maritime East Asia, given that deployment of gray ships in disputed waters are seen as too provocative.
On 12 October, the PCG commissioned the first Multi-Role Response Vessel (MRRV) PCGS Tubbataha that will be used for patrol, search and rescue, and law-enforcement operation in the Philippine maritime territory. The remaining nine vessels will be delivered serially until 2018. In the past few years, Japan has provided rescue equipment, training facilities, communication systems, maritime safety equipment, satellite-based communication system and Vessel Traffic Management System (VTMS) to the PCG.
Significantly, Japan has also started to provide the Philippines with military equipment and training. President Duterte also witnessed the signing of the Memorandum of Implement and Letter of Arrangement for the transfer of Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF)’s training aircraft TC-90s maritime reconnaissance planes for the PN. Japan will also provide the training for PN aviators and will develop the infrastructures for these reconnaissance aircraft that will be patrolling the South China Sea. Interestingly, President Duterte also hinted that the Philippines could conduct naval exercises with Japan, but he repeated that there would no more joint exercises with the United States. Read more…