Philippines military must evolve fast to counter China, says its Defence Secretary

Philippines military must evolve fast to counter China, says its Defence Secretary


The Philippine military must evolve fast because of threats to a "free and open" Asia-Pacific region, Defence Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said on May 10 at the end of annual exercises with the United States.

Mr. Teodoro, whose comments were made against the backdrop of a festering maritime row with China, said the military must "try to focus on actual soldiering".

"The worst thing in a kitchen is a dull knife, and a good chef hones the knife every day," Mr. Teodoro said.

"We will be increasing the pressure continuously for them to evolve as soon as possible into a multi-threat, multi-theatre operating armed force," he said.

The annual "Balikatan" war games, involving around 11,000 American, 5,000 Filipino and 100 Australian troops, began on April 22 and were concentrated in the northern and western parts of the archipelago nation, near the potential flashpoints of the South China Sea and Taiwan.

The area has seen increased confrontations between Chinese and Filipino vessels around shoals in the South China Sea claimed by Manila, as well as stepped-up Chinese air and naval activity around nearby self-ruled Taiwan.

Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea, brushing off rival claims from other countries, including the Philippines, and an international ruling that its assertion has no legal basis.

It deploys hundreds of coast guard, navy and other vessels to patrol the contested waters.

China's coast guard has blasted Philippine vessels with water cannon off Second Thomas Shoal and Scarborough Shoal in the disputed sea this year, causing damage and injuries.

"No amount of malign, or for lack of a better term, perverse attempts to subvert our goal for a free and open Indo-Pacific and a rules-based international order will stop our shared advance towards upholding these internationally accepted norms come what may," Mr. Teodoro said, using the United States' preferred term for the Asia-Pacific the region.

'Shoulder to shoulder'​

Lieutenant General Michael Cederholm, commander of the U.S. First Marine Expeditionary Force, said the joint exercises — dubbed Balikatan, or "shoulder to shoulder" in Tagalog — "directly built warfighting readiness" for the allies.

"It should also give pause to any adversary who does not believe in a free and open Pacific, who does not believe in transparency, who does not seek peaceful resolution but would seek to use force to impose their will on other sovereign nations," he said.

The row between the Philippines and China took another turn on Friday when Manila's top security adviser called for the expulsion of Chinese embassy staff he accused of "malign influence and interference".

The Chinese embassy said in a statement on May 3 that diplomats had reached an informal agreement with the Philippine armed forces, through its Western Command, to handle disputes around Ren'ai Jiao, China's name for Second Thomas Shoal, in the South China Sea.

Mr. Teodoro said on Monday there was no such agreement with Chinese diplomats.

On Friday, Philippine National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano accused the Chinese embassy of "repeated acts of engaging in and dissemination of disinformation, misinformation, and malinformation".

He said those "responsible for these malign influence and interference operations must be removed from the country immediately".

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lin Jian said Friday that Beijing "solemnly requires that the Philippines effectively ensures that Chinese diplomats can perform their duties normally, (and) stops infringement and provocation".

Second Thomas Shoal is garrisoned by Filipino troops stationed on a grounded naval ship who are frequently resupplied by boat with food, water and other provisions.

The resupply missions to the remote reef have become a flashpoint between the rival claimants.
 

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