What’s Behind the New China-Philippines Coast Guard Exercise?

By Prashanth Parameswaran / March 15, 2017 / The Diplomat

On Monday, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesman Lt. Cdr. Armando Balilo said that the Philippine and Chinese coast guards would look to boost their ties with visits and exercises beginning later this year. Despite the sensationalist headlined that followed Balilo’s remarks, his statement is just the latest sign that the relationship between the two coast guards is beginning to warm under President Rodrigo Duterte in spite of the lingering South China Sea dispute.

As I have noted before, the Philippines and China have been eying closer coast guard cooperation as among the key items designed to boost the relationship since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte took office last June. Indeed, one of the key agreements concluded during Duterte’s closely-watched maiden voyage to China in October last year was a memorandum of understanding on coast guard cooperation (See: “The Limits of Duterte’s US-China Rebalance”).

Though the language on what that cooperation would look like was rather vague, both sides did follow through to outline some specifics, beginning with the first organizational meeting between the two coast guards to discuss the formation of a Joint Coast Guard Committee on Maritime Cooperation (JCGC) held in Manila in December. They also discussed a proposed hotline between their coast guards, which would constitute an important albeit limited confidence-building measure (See: “Beware the Illusions of China-ASEAN South China Sea Breakthroughs”).

The second organizational meeting and the inaugural meeting of the JCGC was held from February 20 to 22 in Subic Bay. At the time, the JCGC adopted the implementing guidelines of the MOU and the terms of reference of the working groups to assist in its operation, which includes combating drug trafficking and other transnational crimes, search and rescue, environmental protection, and emergency response. They also agreed on a hotline mechanism, though few specifics were publicly provided.

At the time, the official press release following the meeting had indicated that “bilateral exchange activities,” defined to include high-level visits, maritime operations and related exercises, vessel visits, and capacity-building would be conducted to further enhance collaboration. Read more…


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