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August 2015

the key link between IDEAS and ACTION

of the

The Strategic
in East Asia and
the Small Powers:


The Strategic Balance in East Asia and the Small Powers:



The South China Sea is a semi-enclosed sea surrounded by China and several small and militarily
weak Southeast Asian powers such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei. For almost
three decades, these littoral states have been involved in a chronic competition as each one
seeks to extend its sovereignty and jurisdictional claims over more than a hundred islets, reefs,
and rocks and their surrounding waters. The dispute became dormant in the late 1990s and the
early 21st century after China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
signed the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

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Tension arising from this maritime row,

however, increased again in 2009 when
China discarded its tactic of delaying the
resolution of the dispute and asserted
instead its sovereignty over the contested
waters. Chinese leaders feel confident
that with their countrys new
political and economic clout and the
strong Peoples Liberation Army (PLA),
China can boldly advance its core interests in the maritime domain. This thrust
is reflected by Chinas insistence on the
Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ)
in the East China Sea, the conduct of
live-fire exercises by the Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), and the Peoples
Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) in the
West Pacific, and the hard-line response
of PLAN and other maritime law enforcement agencies during several confrontations with Philippine and Vietnamese
civilian ships in the South China Sea.2
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Early on, this maritime dispute caught

the attention of the U.S., which is trying
to maintain its naval primacy in East Asia
despite Chinas emergence as an economic and military power. In 2011, the
Obama Administration announced the
U.S. strategic rebalancing to the AsiaPacific region. Interestingly, Japan has
also become interested in the dispute. As
Chinas geostrategic rival and the U.S. key
ally in East Asia, Japan is bent on playing
a balancing role in the dispute by helping other claimant states build up their
respective naval capabilities. The growing
involvement of the U.S. and Japan in the
South China Sea dispute has generated
a strategic balance in the region. Consequently, many International Relations
scholars and analysts have elevated the
South China Sea dispute from a simple
territorial row to a high-level geopolitical
concern since the disputed area is a

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volume 8 issue 3



Chinas Realpolitik Approach

Since the mid-1990s, China has developed an
arsenal of conventional yet inexpensive and highly
precise armed ballistic and cruise missiles aimed
at virtually every U.S. airbase and port
in the Western Pacific.



Facilitating the U.S Strategic

Rebalancing to Asia
An important factor behind the Aquino Administrations balancing policy on China is the reconfigured
Philippine-U.S. security relationship.

The Strategic Rebalancing

and Changing U.S Defense
During the ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi on 20
July 2010, the then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton, stated that it is vital to American interests
that the freedom of navigation, open access to
Asias maritime commons, and the littoral states
respect for international maritime law in
the South China Sea are respected.


on the cover
From Center of Strategic and International
Studies (CSIS), a sattellite image showing
Chinese vessels building an artificial Island
at Mischief Reef in the disputed seas.

about the author

Professor Renato Cruz De Castro. Ph.D.
(Ph.D.2001, USC)
Renato Cruz De Castro is a full professor
in the International Studies Department,
De La Salle University, Manila, and the
holder of the Charles Lui Chi Keung
Professorial Chair in China Studies. He
is currently a member of the Board of
Trustees of the ADR Institute. He was the
U.S. State Department ASEAN Research
Fellow from the Philippines and was based
Arizona State University in 2009. He
earned his Ph.D. from the Government and
International Studies Department of the
University of South Carolina as a Fulbright
Scholar in 2001. He obtained his BA and
two masters degrees from the University of
the Philippines. His research interests are
Philippine-U.S. security relations, Philippine defense and foreign policies, U.S.
defense and foreign policies in East Asia,
and International politics of East Asia.




The Strategic Balance in

the South China Sea
China claims almost 80% of the South China Sea.
However, it cannot exercise complete territorial control over the Spratlys and their surrounding waters
as some land features are occupied by the other
claimant states and, more significantly, because of
the growing involvement of the U.S. and Japan in
the maritime dispute.


Fostering a Strategic
Partnership with Japan
Aside from strengthening its alliance with the U.S,
the Philippines also fosters its strategic partnership
with Japan, Chinas main rival in East Asia.


Building Up a Credible
Defense Posture
Although determined to shift the AFPs focus from
internal security to territorial defense, the Aquino
Administration is constrained by insufficient
financial resources even with its modest
defense acquisition goals.


dangerous ground or a future of conflict.3 As a future of conflict, the South China Sea becomes an arena where states with
powerful navies will jockey for strategic and diplomatic
positions with their warships in the high seas, pursue their
conflicting claims for natural resources, and strive for
supremacy in the Western Pacific.4

Chinas Realpolitik Approach

Trapped in this potentially dangerous strategic balance in East

Asia are the small claimant statesthe Philippines, Vietnam,
Brunei Darusallam, and Malaysia. Two of them, the Philippines
and Vietnam, find themselves in a classic security dilemma in
which the actions by Chinathe most powerful claimant states
in the disputeis viewed as extremely threatening by the other
claimants.5 They fear that China might seize some of the disputed islands in the South China Sea given the potential energy
reserves of these maritime territories, and their importance in
maritime trade and as sea lanes of communication (SLOC)6.
Confronted by Chinas preponderant economic and military
power, the two Southeast Asian states had no other recourse but
to pursue a regional balance of power where the U.S. remains a
resident Pacific power and a major 21st century strategic player.
Such policy squarely puts these two small powers in the middle
of a strategic stand-off between China and the U.S. with Japan,
which can ignite a major systemic conflict in the 21st century.

Since the mid-1990s, China has

developed an arsenal of conventional
yet inexpensive and highly precise
armed ballistic and cruise missiles
aimed at virtually every U.S. airbase and
port in the Western Pacific. These weapons are also designed to sink enemy
surface vessels (including U.S. aircraft
carriers) operating hundreds of miles
off Chinas coastal areas.7
Chinese planners believe that their
missile, with anti-access/area denial
(A2/AD) capabilities, can adequately
prevent the U.S. Navy from intervening
or provoking a confrontation with the
China in the region.8 Thus, the U.S. has
reasons to believe that the PLAN has
been developing strategies and weapon
systems that can disrupt American
naval/air operations or slow down the
deployment of its air and naval forces to
the theater of operations.9

Using the Philippines as a case study, this paper examines how a

small power responds and adjusts to a fluid and potentially
dangerous strategic balance generated by mistrust, suspicion,
and rivalry between China and the U.S.-Japan tandem over a
maritime dispute. It raises this main question: How does the
Philippines adjust to this balance of power situation created by
the involvement of these three major naval powers in the South
China Sea dispute? It also explores these corollary questions:
1) What major developments led to the emergence of this fluid
strategic balance of power in East Asia? 2) How do the three
naval powers pursue their respective strategic interests in the
dispute? 3) What are the characteristics of this strategic balancing by the three naval powers in East Asia? 4) How does the
Philippines view this fluid and potentially dangerous
strategic balance of power in the region?

With a booming economy and a

formidable navy, China no longer focuses on pre-empting possible U.S.
intervention in a Taiwan Straits crisis
but on denying the U.S. Navy access to
the East China Sea and South China
Sea or in inside the first island chain.
China has had an annual double-digit
increase in defense spending since
2006. Consequently, in the past few
years, the PLAN has acquired a growing
fleet of Russian-made diesel-electric
Kilo-class submarines and Sovremmeny-class destroyers, along with several
types of indigenously-built destroyers,



frigates, and nuclear-powered attack submarines. The PLAN has also upgraded its operational capabilities across the waters surrounding Taiwan and has deployed two new
classes of ballistic and attack submarines.
Moving beyond its strategic preoccupation on
the Taiwan Straits, Chinas naval forces can
generate regional tension by challenging the
claims of its small neighboring states, and in
the long run, to change the strategic pattern
of the maritime commons of East Asia and
West Pacific from where the U.S. Navy can be
eased out. Interestingly, Chinese media commentators have repeatedly emphasized the
significance of Chinas blue water navy and
the exigency of protecting its territorial
claims in the South China Sea.
With its naval prowess, China has become
more assertive in the South China Sea. In
March 2009, Chinese naval and fishing
vessels harassed the U.S.S. Impeccable
which was openly conducting surveying

operations in the South China Sea. The following year, China warned the U.S. to
respect its extensive maritime claims. In March 2010, Chinese officials told two
visiting U.S. State Department senior officials that China would not tolerate any
American interference in the South China Sea, which is now part of the countrys core interests of sovereignty on par with Taiwan and Tibet.10 Recently,
the Chinese government increased its defense budget by 13% to boost the
PLANs capability to accomplish a range of military functions including
winning local wars under information age conditions.
Judging from its recent behavior, Chinas aggressive pursuit of its territorial
claim over the South China Sea has increased in tandem with the expansion of
its navy and maritime services.11 It conducts regular naval exercises that utilize
modern surface combatants and even submarines.12 These activities reflect
Chinas intention to unilaterally and militarily resolve the maritime issue, flaunt
its naval capabilities, and impress upon the other claimant states its
de facto ownership of the disputed territories.13 In the long run, Chinas naval
capabilities will be directed not only to expand its maritime domain but to deny
foreign naviesespecially that of the U.S.access to the East China and South
China Seas. In time, it will be capable of depriving the U.S. 7th Fleets access to
the Western Pacific inside of the so-called first island chain.14
In mid-2012, China engaged the Philippines in a tense two-month stand-off in
Scarborough Shoal using civilian government ships and fishing vessels

Chinas naval capabilities will be directed not only to

expand its maritime domain but to deny foreign
naviesespecially that of the U.S.access to the
East China and South China Seas.




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supported by the PLAN. During the stalemate, China stood its ground and insisted on
its authority and control over the contested
territory and its related resources and rights.
A few days after Chinese and Filipino civilian
vessels withdrew from the contested shoal,
thus ending the impasse, China deployed its
growing military and paramilitary forces in the
South China Sea. It took certain measures
to advance its right to exploit marine and oil
resources rights; strengthened its administrative control over the disputed land features;
and ignored the harsh criticism of the U.S.,
Japan and other states.15
In July 2012, China created a new administrative unit for the 1,100 Chinese citizens
living in the island groups of the Spratlys, the
Paracels, and the Macclesfield Bank. In addition, the Central Military Commission, Chinas
most powerful military body, approved the
stationing of PLA personnel to guard these
islands. These actions were designed to reinforce Chinas territorial claim over the South
China Sea. No less than the president of the
National Institute of South China Sea Studies based in Hainan Island admitted that the
goal of the strategic move is to allow Beijing
to exercise sovereignty over all land features
inside the South China Sea including more
than 40 islands now illegally occupied by
Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia.16

The Strategic Rebalancing and

Changing U.S. Defense Strategy
During the ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi
on 20 July 2010, the then U.S. Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton, stated that it is vital
to American interests that the freedom of
navigation, open access to Asias maritime
commons, and the littoral states respect
for international maritime law in the South
China Sea are respected. She mentioned U.S
preparedness to facilitate multilateral
negotiations to settle the dispute over the

islands. In November 2011, the Obama Administration announced a strategic

pivot to the Asia-Pacific region. Accordingly, this refocusing of American
strategic attention to the Asia-Pacific is to ensure that the U.S. will play a larger
and long-term role in reshaping the region and its future. The main gambit
is buttressed by U.S. diplomatic strategy of constraining China with a stick.
This strategy does not involve Cold War- style containment of China, which is
deemed simplistic and wrong, but rather to make China acknowledge
Americas strength, determination, and strategy.17 Its ultimate goal is to shape
the norms and rules of the Asia-Pacific region and to ensure that international
law and norms be respected, that commerce and freedom of navigation are
not impeded, that emerging powers build trust with their neighbors, and that
disagreements are resolved peacefully without threats of coercion.18
In June 2012, then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta detailed Americas strategic rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific during the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.
He revealed that the U.S. Navy will have shifted its maritime assets such that
60% will be in the Pacific by 2020. This strategic maneuver involves the deployment of six aircraft carriers, a majority of the navys cruisers, destroyers, and
littoral ships designed to operate closely offshore.19 It also needs to move into
position highly advanced war materiel such as the F-22 Raptor fighter jets, Virginia Class fast attack submarines, lightly armed but fast Littoral Combat Ships
(LCS), and a new class of destroyers labeled DDG-1000; improved precisionguided weapons; and new electronic warfare communication systems. Former
Secretary Panetta added that the U.S. military is also developing new weapon
systems such as an aerial-refueling tanker, a bomber, and an aircraft for antisubmarine warfare to provide American forces with the freedom of maneuver
in areas where their access and freedom of action may be threatened.20
The global restructuring of U.S. naval and air assets to the Pacific will give teeth
to the Pentagons 2010 Air/Sea Battle Doctrine (later renamed Joint Concept
for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons). The doctrine projects that in
the unthinkable case of a war with China, the U.S. armed forces will use joint air
and naval forces to override or deter Chinas anti-access system within the first
island chain.21 Similarly, it envisions U.S. air and naval units attacking
Chinese surveillance and integrated air defense systems, followed by a
weighted campaign to bomb Chinese land-based ballistic and anti-ship missile
systems to seize and sustain the initiative in air, sea, space, and cyber
domains.22 As an operational concept, the doctrine proposes the development
of a new generation of naval and air weapon systems, as well as the deeper
military commitments from American allies along East Asias coasts-Japan,
the Philippines, South Korea, and Australia-all of whom are close to the South
China Sea.23 More recently, a new and evolving U.S. strategy even
presupposes neutralizing Chinas capability to control the air and sea around
the first island chain. It requires the U.S. to integrate allied battle networks and
strengthen allied capabilities by deploying American ground troops as well as
air and naval forces along the first island chain to deny the PLAN the sea
control it needs to mount offensive operations against these islands.24



Extending the Sino-Japanese

Rivalry into Southeast Asia
Since the mid-1990s, Japan has
closely monitored the PLANs buildup and sporadic flaunting of its
naval prowess.25 There are two other
reasons why the South China Sea
dispute worries Japan. First, if China
succeeds in intimidating the small
littoral Southeast Asian states, it could
use the same gambit in the East China
Sea where Japan has staked a claim
to the Senkaku Islands.26 Second,
Chinas control of the South China
Sea and the East China Sea is part of
the strategy of depriving the U.S. Navy
access to Chinas surrounding waters,
and giving the PLAN easier ingress
to the Western Pacific outside of the
first island chain.27 If the U.S. Navy is
driven out of the western part of the
Pacific, the PLAN can easily dominate
the South China Sea because even
the combined navies of the Southeast
Asian claimant states cannot match
Chinese naval prowess.28 Simply, Tokyo
preempts Beijings calculation that
if Chinese belligerence can end the
South China Sea dispute, then it can
similarly resolve the rivalry with Japan
over the Senkaku Islands in the East
China Sea.

of Article 9 (the Peace Clause) of the

1947 Japanese Constitution to
enable the Self-Defense Forces (SDF)
to exercise the right of collective
self-defense. A loose interpretation of
this vague provision will allow the SDF
to come to the aid of Japans security
partners that are under armed attack
by a third party. Japans modern and
relatively large Maritime Self-Defense
Force (MSDF), a fleet of six Aegis
combat system-equipped destroyers
with 39 guided missile destroyers and
16 conventional submarines, can fill
the strategic gap in the South China
Sea. The MSDF can be supported by
the Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF),
which expanded its opreational reach
by developing a mid-air refueling
capacity and acqui-ring of the Boeing KC-767 tanker. The International
Institute for Strategic Studies observes
that Japans National Defense Program
Guidelines for 2011-2015 contain
reform measures enabling the SDF to
respond to the shifting power structure
in East Asia.29 Thus, Japan can
strategically confront Chinas
assertiveness in the South China Sea
and assume an active role in the
U.S.-Japan security alliance.

More recently, Prime Minister Shinzo

Abe is pushing for the reinterpretation




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The Strategic Balance in the

South China Sea
China claims almost 80% of the South
China Sea. However, it cannot exercise
complete territorial control over the
Spratlys and their surrounding waters
as some land features are occupied by
the other claimant states and, more
significantly, because of the growing
involvement of the U.S. and Japan
in the maritime dispute. The U.S. is
troubled by Chinas bullying behavior
towards the small claimant states. By
all appearances, it assumes that any
Chinese use of force against the Vietnam and the Philippines (a formal treaty ally of the U.S.) challenges American
military supremacy and diplomatic influence in East Asia. Meanwhile, Japan,
pressured by China over the Senkaku
Islands dispute, has become involved
in the South China Sea dispute as well.
The stable but fragile security situation
can be described as an old-fashioned
strategic balancing of an emergent
regional power by two small powers
that depend on other external major
maritime powers to maintain a precarious status quo in the South China Sea
for the foreseeable future.30
Thus far, this balance of power system
in the South China Sea has averted
an armed conflict among the claimant states, prompting Professor David
Scott to quip that the benefits of
such balancing may become apparent
because balancing is itself a stabilizing
process.31 However, the balance of
power situation has two major flaws.
One, it generates a very fluid situation
wherein any error or miscalculation
by any claimant state may trigger an
armed confrontation that may escalate
or drag the other maritime powers into
a major systemic war. Two, while the
balance of power system can stabilize
the situation, it has simply failed to
resolve the dispute, creating a tense
and protracted impasse. The claimant

As a future of conflict, the South China Sea becomes an

arena where states with powerful navies will jockey for
strategic and diplomatic positions with their warships in
the high seas, pursue their conflicting claims for natural
resources, and strive for supremacy in the Western Pacific.
states are using this lull to build-up
their respective military capabilities
for any eventuality.
As a case in point, China has intentionally delayed the resolution of
the dispute to fortify its control of
the contested areas and dissuade
the other states from pursuing their
claims.32 This rules out any possibility
of compromise. As a counter-measure,
the Philippines and Vietnam adopt
a balancing strategy that draws the
U.S. and Japan into the fray. Interestingly, these external maritime powers
are anxious to curtail Chinas growing
strategic clout in East Asia. At present,
China finds itself trapped in its own
security dilemma as it faces increasing American and Japanese naval
presence and pressure in the South
China Sea. Despite almost decades
of restructuring and modernization,
the Chinese leadership is not yet
entirely confident that its untried (and
inexperienced) armed forces can win
wars under high technology conditions
when confronted with the U.S. Navy
supported by Japans MSDF.33 The International Institute for Strategic Studies observes that despite the PLAs
ambition for a blue-water navy, China
has yet to put in place all the assets
necessary to form an effective carrier
task group for blue-water capability.34
If the balance of power works against
its interests, however, China might use
force on any of the claimant states
who have cemented their security ties
with the U.S. and Japan. Nonetheless,
such maneuvering by China will surely
invite possible intervention by these
two maritime powers, especially if
Chinese forces will make the strategic
push against American (and Japa-

nese) naval presence in the first island

chain. In effect, the current balance of
power system could signify the proverbial calm before the storm.
Chinas use of force against any of the
small claimant states could trigger this
storm. For example, Chinas armed
hostile actions against the Philippines, an American treaty ally, might
push the U.S. to make difficult adjustments to its policies in situations in
which its less-than-vital interests are
at stake. They could also push the
U.S. to reevaluate the strategic risk
posed by Chinas ever growing power
and military capabilities.35 On the one
hand, failing to respond to Chinas use
of force against a treaty ally will undermine the credibility of Washingtons
security guarantees to all its Asian
allies. Unless the U.S. backs its security guarantee with the use of force,
its regional allies may grow fearful of
being abandoned, lose the will to challenge China, and eventually succumb
to appeasement. On the other hand,
anticipating an expected American intervention, Chinese strategic planners
may be tempted to test their growing
A2/AD capabilities intended to prevent
the U.S. Navy from triggering a naval
confrontation in the region. Worse,
the Chinese military leaders might
convince themselves that if the U.S.
is to intervene, the PLA could cripple
American conventional naval forces in
the Western Pacific.

Balancing Chinas
Maritime Expansion
Historically, the Philippines had
primarily focused its strategic attention
and efforts on containing domestic



insurgencies generated by economic inequality and the lack of national cohesion.

Since 1946, the Philippines national security concerns have been rooted in
conflicts and in the identity of the nation-state, especially over regime legitimacy,
social justice, and socio-economic inequality, all of which continue to create
tension between state and society.36 This resulted in the primacy of land-based
security threat, subordinating maritime security to internal security concerns and
counter-insurgency operations. This condition was reinforced by the absence of
any visible external threats emanating from the Philippines maritime domain
and the reliance on the U.S. for the countrys external defense requirements.37
This changed in the first decade of the 21st century with Chinas emergence as a
naval power in East Asia and the election of President Benigno Aquino III
as the president of the Philippines in May 2010.
On March 2, 2011, two Chinese patrol boats harassed a survey ship
commissioned by the Philippine Department of Energy (DOE) to conduct oil exploration activities in Reed Bank (now called Recto Bank). The Reed Bank lies 150
kilometers east of the Spratly Islands and 250 kilometers west of the Philippine
island of Palawan. Stunned by this maritime encounter within the Philippines
EEZ, the Aquino Administration filed a protest before the Chinese embassy in
Manila. A Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson commented that the
Philippines is (simply) seeking an explanation for the incident. Brushing aside
the Philippine complaint, a Chinese embassy official insisted that China has
indisputable sovereignty over what China calls the Nansha Islands and their
adjacent territory. Beijing then went on to demand that Manila first seek Chinese
permission before it could conduct oil exploration activities even within the
Philippines EEZ. Furthermore, China badgered the Philippines and other claimant states into recognizing Chinas sovereign claim over the South China Sea.38
Its heavy-handed attitude and arrogant pronouncements against the Philippines
and Vietnam in the first half of 2011 escalated the territorial dispute. By then,
President Aquino unmistakably saw that the Philippines is on a direct collision
course with China vis--vis the South China Sea issue.
With these incidents, the Aquino Administration hastened to develop the AFPs
territorial defense capabilities. In October 2011, Philippine Defense Secretary
Voltaire Gazmin released the Defense Planning Guidance (2013-2018)
document restructuring the AFP to a lean but fully capable armed forces to
confront the challenges to the countrys territorial integrity and maritime security.
The Philippines immediate territorial defense goal is to establish a modest but
comprehensive border protection program anchored on the surveillance,
deterrence, and border patrol capabilities of the Philippine Air Force (PAF), the
Philippine Navy (PN), and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG). This monitoring and
modest force projection capability stretches from the countrys territorial waters to its contiguous and exclusive economic zone (EEZ).39 The long-term goal,
according to the 2011 AFPs Strategic Intent, is to develop the force structure
and capabilities crucial to maintain a credible deterrent posture against foreign
intrusion or external aggression, and other illegal activities while
allowing free navigation to prosper.40



The most recent defense planning guidance

states: That the defense of the countrys
territorial integrity and sovereignty, specifically in the West Philippine Sea, poses [as]
the most foremost security challenge
Hence, the primary end goal of the department is to develop a minimum credible
posture for territorial defense and maritime
security.41 This requires the AFP developing
the following capabilities:42 1) an effective
force present in the area that exhibits the
competence to defend the territory; and 2)
greater surveillance and monitoring capabilities to further secure the Philippine islands,
and prevent unoccupied islands/reefs from
being occupied by other claimants.

Building Up a Credible
Defense Posture
Although determined to shift the AFPs
focus from internal security to territorial
defense, the Aquino Administration is constrained by insufficient financial resources
even with its modest defense acquisition
goals. The current territorial defense buildup is a very expensive undertaking because, in many cases, the AFP has to start
from scratch. For example, the Philippine
air defense capability is nil because the PAF
is practically a helicopter air force without
any fighter planes. It has only one operational radar with a very limited coverage area.43
The PAF needs to develop or acquire radars,
hangars, forward operating bases,
maintenance capabilities, as well as command and control facilities. The PN plans
to acquire two state-of-the-art frigates which
require communications and weapons
systems and mission-essential devices such
as day/night electronic navigational gadgets, communication suites, safety-of-life-atsea equipment, propulsion and seamanship
and ship-handling gears, and corresponding
logistic support packages.

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The financial constraints on the Aquino

Administrations modernization program are
apparent in its efforts to acquire big-ticket
items for the PAF and the PN. On November 2011, President Aquino announced the
PAFs projected purchase of two squadrons
of second-hand F-16C/D planes through the
U.S. Excess Defense Articles (EDA).44 This acquisition, however, might cause tremendous
financial strain on the AFP which is still actively engaged in internal security operations.
In fact, relative to the AFPs Oplan Bayanihan
(Operational Plan Community Spirit), the
PAF continues to carry out these counterinsurgency/counter-terrorism functions: 1)
(ISR); 2) precision attacks to minimize
collateral damages in its ground support
operations; and 3) education and information
dissemination campaigns to win the peoples
hearts and minds.
On May 2012, President Aquino hinted that
the PAF might acquire brand-new lead-in jet
trainers that could be converted into fighter
planes by modifying their airframe.45 In an
interview, he admitted that the government
found it too expensive to buy, let alone
maintain, second-hand fourth-generation jet

fighters which only had five serviceable years. A sound alternative, he said,
was to buy cheaper new fighter aircraft from the United Kingdom,
France, Italy, or South Korea.
In 2012, the Philippine government started negotiations for the procurement
of 12 Korean F/A-50 Golden Eagles from Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI).
The F/A-50s design was largely patterned after the U.S Lockheed Martin F-16
Fighting Falcons. Both fighter planes have similar features: a single engine
and the same speed, size, cost, and range of possible weapons system. These
12 F/A 50 interceptors could secure the Philippines air-space and
simultaneously serve as trainer planes to develop the PAF pilots air command
maneuvering (ACM)skills.46 During his two-day state visit in South Korea on
17-18 October 2013, President Aquino announced that both governments were
finalizing the deal worth Php18.9 billion (estimated US$450 million).
On March 2014, after nearly two years of difficult and tedious negotiations, the
Philippines finally signed a contract with KAI for the purchase of fighter planes
for the PAF. Guaranteed by the state-owned Korea Trade-Investment
Promotion Agency (KOTRA), the contracts commit KAI to deliver the fighter
planes to the PAF in the next 38 months. With air-to-air mid-distance attack
and night-fighting capabilities, the 12 F/A-50 Fighting Eagles would act as
interim jet fighters while the PAF waits for more funding and the proper training
needed for the purchase of fourth-generation multi-role combat interceptors.47
This was the PAFs first such acquisition since the Philippines bought 25 F-8
Crusader fighter-bombers from the U.S. in 1979 to supplement its squadrons of
pre-Vietnam War F-5 fighter planes. It was an important milestone for the PAF,
which had no operational fighter planes since the retirement of its two aging
squadrons of Northrop F-5s in 2005. This was also the AFPs first major
acquisition since its planned force modernization in the early 1990s.



The Aquino Administration is also bank-rolling the PNs

Desired Force Mixan acquisition program aimed to give
the PN some limited anti-air/anti-submarine capabilities.
Since 2012, the PN has been pushing for the purchase of
the aforementioned frigates for territorial defense, internal
security operations, naval interdiction, humanitarian assistance, and disaster response. These vessels will
be equipped with air-to-air, anti-ship and anti-submarine
weapons and sensors for extended and extensive patrolling
and surveillance of the countrys vast maritime territory.
Initially, the defense department was mulling over buying
two decommissioned Italian Maestrale frigates which have
credible missile and anti-submarine capabilities. However,
the defense department decided against the purchase
after evaluation studies found out that operating these second-hand vessels would be more costly in the long run.48
At present, the government is looking at the offers from
South Korea and Spain to supply two brand new frigates.
However, the project has been on hold for the last two
years because the PN is in quandary whether it will acquire
cheaper second-hand ships or the more expensive newly
constructed vessels. In the end, however, the final
decision depends on the exigent need for the frigates and,
more essentially, on the availability of public funds for the
acquisition of these ships. As one ranking defense official
notes, only vessels that will provide the country a credible
defense posture and (more importantly) affordable
cost will be selected.49
In building up the countrys territorial defense capabilities,
the Aquino Administration sinks its teeth into challenging Chinas expansive claims in the South China Sea as it
encroaches on the countrys EEZ. However, bogged down
by insufficient resources and its slow pace, the AFPs
modernization would hardly deter the PLAN in the South
China Sea given the latters procurement of large surface
combatants and submarines since the advent of the 21st
century.50 Even if the Philippine government provides the
AFP the funds for its shopping list of planes, surface
combatants and submarines, the strategic imbalance
between the Philippines and China cannot be rectified in
the foreseeable future. Fortunately for the country, two
external powers are interested in fostering a security
partnership with the Philippines in the face of
Chinas maritime expansion in the South
Chinathe U.S. and Japan.




Facilitating the U.S. Strategic

Rebalancing to Asia
An important factor behind the Aquino
Administrations balancing policy on
China is the reconfigured PhilippineU.S. security relationship. The U.S.
regularly extends technical and military
assistance to the AFP to maintain the
Filipino-American security partnership. The most recent U.S. assistance
included the transfer of two former U.S.
Coast Guard Hamilton- class cutters to
the Philippine Navy through the Foreign
Military Sales credit.51 Aware of its
military inadequacies vis--vis China,
however, Manila has asked for an
unequivocal U.S. commitment to Philippine defense and security as provided
for in the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty,
specifically American naval/air
support in the Spratlys.
Philippine officials rationalized that an
armed attack on Philippine metropolitan territory and forces anywhere in
the Pacific, including the South China
Sea, should trigger an automatic U.S.
armed response. The American position regarding this matter, however, is
ambiguous for two reasons:52 On the
one hand, the U.S. tries to address
legitimate Philippine concerns about
the absence of a clear guarantee of
military support in case of an armed
confrontation in the South China Sea;
on the other hand, the U.S. avoids
giving an explicit and broad statement
of a security guarantee that could
encourage the Philippines to behave
provocatively against China, whether
based on its expansive interpretation
of its sovereignty over the islands it
controls in the South China Sea to a
mistaken assumption about the
prospect of an automatic American

armed response in case of an outbreak of hostility in the disputed waters.

Fortunately for the Philippines, an increasing number of U.S. policymakers are
starting to share the Philippines view that the archipelago is a strategic
bellwether of Chinas maritime expansion in the West Pacific and at the same
time, the natural barrier to check Chinas expansionism.53 Hence, the U.S. must
help the Philippines develop its own military naval capabilities to counter Chinas
efforts to project power in the Asia-Pacific.54 The 2012 Scarborough Shoal
stand-off and later, Chinas occupation of the shoal made it urgent for Manila to
negotiate the Framework Agreement on Increased Rotational Presence (IRP)
with Washington. The agreement facilitates the deployment of American troops
and equipment on a rotational basis, thus skirting the controversial issue of reestablishing U.S. bases in the country. Curiously, the negotiation was conducted
against the backdrop of recurring tension between the Philippines and China
over the South China Sea. With its small and weak naval force and an almost
non-existent air force, the Philippine military is heavily dependent on the
U.S for technical assistance in joint military training, humanitarian
missions, and disaster response operations.
On 28 April 2014, Philippine Defense Secretary Gazmin and U.S. Ambassador
to the Philippines Philip Goldberg signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation
Agreement (EDCA) a few hours before President Barack Obama arrived in Manila
for his first state visit. Actually, EDCA is not a new security pact; it is merely an
updated implementation of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.55 This executive
agreement provides the framework by which the Philippines and the U.S. can
develop their individual and collective defense capabilities. Such a task can be
accomplished through the rotational deployment of American forces in Philippine
bases.56 Although the EDCA allows American forces to utilize AFP-owned-andcontrolled facilities, the Philippine base commander has unhampered access to
these locations. Likewise, American built-or-improved infrastructure inside these
installations can be used by the AFP. Furthermore, any construction and other
activities within in the Philippine bases require the consent of the host country
through the Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board.
On a strategic level, the EDCA undercuts Chinas A2/AD Strategy in Southeast
Asia even without the U.S. establishing any permanent base in the region.
Through the EDCA, U.S. forces are afforded two innovative access arrangements
in the Philippines, namely:57 1) forward operating sites-expandable warm military
facilities with limited U.S. military support presence; and 2) cooperative security
locations-facilities with little or no permanent American presence and are maintained by the host nation. The plan involves bringing American
tactical units-personnel and their equipment to allied bases in East Asia to plan
and exercise contingency missions for a crisis or conflict situation.58 These are
less expensive, less visible and less vulnerable access arrangements that offer
greater strategic and operational for the United States flexibility. They are less
likely to create local political problems and are expected to promote long-term
security cooperation between the U.S. and the Philippines.




Fostering a Strategic
Partnership with Japan
Aside from strengthening its alliance with the U.S, the
Philippines also fosters its strategic partnership with Japan,
Chinas main rival in East Asia. On July 2012, then Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto and his Filipino
counterpart, Secretary Gazmin, inked a bilateral agreement
on maritime security.59 This agreement features high-level
dialogues between defense officials and reciprocal visits
by the MSDF chief-of-staff and the PN flag commander. A
few days later, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert
Del Rosario announced that Tokyo was likely to provide the
PCG with ten 40-meter boats as part of Japans ODA to the
Philippines by the end of the year.60 Newspapers also reported a grant of two additional bigger vessels considered
for transfer to the Philippine government.
On January 2013, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida
announced Japans technical assistance to the PCG
through the provision of essential communications equipment for maritime safety.61 On 27 June 2013, Japanese
Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and Secretary Gazmin
confirmed the continuous exchanges of information aimed
at strengthening Philippine-Japan defense relations and on
working together to make U.S. strategic rebalancing a reality in Asia.62 Secretary Gazmin also raised the possibility
of allowing the Japanese MSDF access to the former
American military bases in the Philippines if Tokyo is
interested in negotiating and signing an
access agreement with Manila.63
The Philippines and Japan have conducted high-level meetings and consultations to solidify their security cooperation
in the face of Chinas military assertiveness. On December
2013, President Aquino discussed with Prime Minister
Shintaro Abe in Tokyo Chinas establishment of an Air
Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea.64
President Aquino was worried that China might extend the
zone into the South China Sea, adversely affecting Philippine security. Prime Minister Abe assured President Aquino
that Japan would not tolerate Chinas attempt to change
the status quo in the region by force and that it intended to
cooperate with the Philippines to ensure that the freedom
of flight and navigation is respected.65 To help build up the
PCGs capability, Prime Minister Abe approved a yen-based
soft loan to finance the Philippines acquisition of ten
40-meter long multi-purpose patrol boats from Japan.



On June 2014, President Aquino again

met Prime Minister Abe in Tokyo to discuss ways to further Philippine-Japan
security relations.66 Tackled in particular are areas of possible cooperation
to enhance the recently forged Philippines-Japan Strategic Partnership.
President Aquino followed up the
PCGs request for ten patrol boats to
be acquired by the Philippines through
a US$184 million soft loan from the
Japan International Cooperation
Agency.68 Prime Minister Abe assured
President Aquino that three of the vessels would be delivered in 2015; while
the remaining seven would be ready
for delivery in 2016. The PCG needs
the patrol boats to secure the waters
around the seven islands claimed
and occupied by the Philippines in the
Spratlys. The boats will also monitor any foreign naval presence in the
several reefs and shoals near the parts
of the countrys Exclusive Economic
Zone (EEZ) currently occupied by Chinese forces. For the PCGs maritime
domain awareness operations, Japan
promised to provide VSAR and Inmarsat communication systems.
In his recent visit to Japan in early June
2015, President Aquino and Prime
Minister Abe signed a joint declaration on A Strengthened Strategic
Partnership for Advancing the Shared
Principles and Partnership and Goals
for Peace, Security, and Growth in the
Region and Beyond. The communiqu commits Japan to the following:
1) enhancing the capacity of the PCG;
2) cooperating with the Philippines
on maritime security specifically on
maritime domain awareness, and 3)
raising the prospects for the transfer
of Japanese defense equipment and

technology to the Philippines.69 In a press briefing, President Aquino announced the forthcoming negotiation on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that would allow SDF access
to Philippine military bases. He disclosed that a Philippine-Japan SOFA is possible since
both countries have boosted their security relationship significantly over the past few years.
The SDFs use of Philippine bases, on a limited and rotational basis, will be useful to Japan
as it actively pursues a policy of Pro-Active Contribution to Peace in East Asia. With
refueling and basing facilities in the Philippines, units of the ASDF and MSDF can
conduct joint patrols with their American counterparts for a longer period of
time and over a larger area of the South China Sea.

Since 2009, China has taken an aggressive approach in pursuing its expansive maritime
claim in the South China Sea. Initially, it used a delaying tactic in the resolution of the
dispute while it consolidated its claims over disputed maritime territories and deterred
small claimant states from strengthening their own claims. Eventually, the U.S. and Japan
displayed their interests in the dispute and have since projected their naval prowess in East
Asia. These two naval powers have also extended military assistance to the small claimant
states in the South China Sea dispute-the Philippines and Vietnam. This, in turn, has raised
the possibility of a major naval confrontation between an emergent power and two major
naval powers in the South China Sea. These developments have created a potentially
volatile balance of power situation in the South China Sea. So far, this balance of
power has prevented an armed conflict among the claimant states.
The Philippines is taking advantage of this strategic impasse to build up a credible defense
capability to back its defiant act of standing up to Chinas maritime expansion in the South
China Sea. It has also strengthened its security ties with the U.S. and Japan to maintain
the balance of power situation for the time being. However, given the slow pace and the
limited funding for its arms modernization program, the Philippines foresees that this strategic stand-off among the major powers will continue way into the third decade of the 21st
century. Nevertheless, such a view may overlook the possibility that this strategic stand-off
might be the proverbial calm before the storm. If this storm suddenly breaks out on the
countrys maritime horizon, the Philippines might find itself in the same situation as it was
in the late 1941militarily ill-equipped, utterly defenseless, and totally
unprepared for the tempests destructive onslaught.





This article is a shorter version of a paper
that was presented in the panel on Military Balance
and Regional Order Fifth Annual CSIS South China
Sea Conference, Center for Strategic and International
Studies (CSIS), 21 July 2015, Washington, D.C.

National Institute for Defense Studies,
NIDS China Security Report 2014 (Tokyo, Japan: National Institute for Defense Studies, 2015). p. 3.

See Carlyle A. Thayer, Chinas New Wave

of Aggressive Assertiveness in the South China Sea,
International Journal of China Studies 2, 3 (December
2011). pp. 555-583. Fravel M. Taylor, Chinas Strategy
in the South China Sea, Contemporary Southeast Asia
33.3 (December 2011): 292-319. http://search/;
Huai-Feng Ren and Fu-Kuo-Liu, Transitional Security
Pattern in the South China Sea and the Involvement
of External Parties, Issues and Studies 49, 2 (June
2013). pp. 103-145; Leszek Buszynski, The South China Sea Maritime Dispute: Legality, Power, and Conflict
Prevention, Asian Journal of Peacebuilding 1.1. (2013).
pp. 39-63;
429784?accountid=28547; and David Scott, Conflict
Irresolution in the South China Sea Asian Survey 56,
6 (November/December 2012). pp. 1019-1042.

See Robert Kaplan, The South China Sea is
the Future of Conflict, Foreign Policy 188 (September/
October 2011): 76-88.

Taylor, op. cit. p. 296.

Michael A. Glony, Getting Beyond Taiwan?

Chinese Foreign Policy and PLA Modernization, Strategic Forum No. 261 (January 2011). p. 4.

sessment of Global Military Capabilities and Defence

Economics (London: The International Institute for
Strategic Studies, 2011). p. 196.
Yoichi Kato, Chinas Naval Expansion in
the Western Pacific, Global Asia 5, 4 (Winter 2010). p.
Robert Sutter and Chin-hao Huang,
China-Southeast Asia Relations: Beijing Shifts to the
Positive, Downplays Disputes, Comparative Connection: A Triannual E-Journal on East Asian Bilateral
Relations (January 2014). p. 1. http://csis.orga/files/

Jane Perlez, Stand-off Over South China

Sea Shoal Eases: Beijing and Manila Pull their ships
from Area, but the Dispute is not settle, International
Herald Tribune (19 June 2012). p. 4.

Mark Landler, How Obama Switched to
Tougher Line with China, International Herald Tribune
(21 September 2012). pp. 1-1.

Mark E. Manyin et al Pivot to the Pacific?

The Obama Administrations Rebalancing toward
Asia, Congressional Research Service (Washington,
D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 28 March 2012).
p. 1.
1 8

1 9
Jane Perlez, U.S. Gives Explanation for
its Pivot to Asia, International Herald Tribune (4
June 2012). p. 1.

Aaron L. Friedberg, Buckling Beijing: An
Alternative U.S. China Policy, Foreign Policy (September/October 2012). 91, 5. P. 53.

Ibid. p. 53.

Roger Cliff, Mark Burles, Michael S. Chase,

Derek Eaton, and Kevin L. Pollpeter, Entering the
Dragons Lair: Chinese Anti-Access Strategies and their
Implications for the United States (Santa Monica, CA:
Rand Corporation, 2007). p. xvii.

Edward Wong, China Asserts Role as a
Naval Power, International Herald Tribune (23 April
2010). pp. 1and 4.

Peter Dutton, Three Disputes and Three

Objectives: China and the South China Sea, Naval War
College Review (Autumn 2011) 54, 4. p. 6.

1 2
For details on Chinas Training Exercises in
its surrounding waters see National Institute for Defense Studies, NIDS China Security Report (Tokyo: National Institute for Defense Studies, 2011) . pp. 14-21.
See The International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2011: The Annual As-




David S. Cloud, Panetta Out to Reassure
Allies Defense Chief Says U.S. Commitment, Asian
Pivot Real, South Florida-Sun-Sentinel (2 June 2012).
p. 1
Sheldon W. Simon, Conflict and Diplomacy in the South China Sea: The View from Washington, Asian Survey 52, 6 (November/December 2012).
p. 1012.
.X. Hammes and D. Hooker, Americas Ultimate Strategy in a Clash with China, National Interests
(June 10, 2014). p.1.
Sheldon W. Simon, Conflict and Diplomacy in the South China Sea: The View from Washington, Asian Survey 52, 6 (November/December 2012).
p. 1012.
Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr., How to Deter
China: The Case of Archipelagic Defense, Foreign Affairs 94, 2. (March/April 2015). pp. 78-86.
National Institute of Defense Studies, NIDS
China Report 2011 (Tokyo: National Institute of Defense Studies, 2011). p. 17.

Ian Storey, Japan Steps Up to the South

China Sea Plate: Tokyo is Confronting Beijing and Increasing Defense Ties with ASEAN Members to Protect Maritime Trade, Wall Street Journal (09 July 2012).
p. 1.

For an interesting discussion on the dismal state of the PAF see Galileo Gerard R. Kintanar,
Developing an Air Power Culturethe Missing Dimension, Digest: Strategic and Special Studies (3rd
Quarter 2012). pp. 35-48.

Yoichi Kato, Chinas Naval Expansion in the
Western Pacific, Global Asia (Winter 2010) 5, 4. p. 19.

Jon Grevatt, Philippines to Hasten Recreation of Dedicated Combat Wing with Ex-USAF F-16
Purchase, Jane Defense Industry 29, 1 (January 1,
2012). p. 1.


National Institute for Defense Studies, op.

cit. p. 26.
The International Institute for Strategic
Studies, The Military Balance 2012: The Annual Assessment of Global Military Capabilities and Defence
Economics (London: The International Institute for
Strategic Studies, 2012).p. 212.

Scott, op. cit. p. 1041.


Scott, op. cit. p. 1042.


Taylor, op. cit. p. p. 12.


Ren and Liu, op. cit. p. 7.

The International Institute for Strategic
Studies, The Military Balance 2012: The Annual Assessment of Global Military Capabilities and Defence
Economics (London: The International Institute for
Strategic Studies, 2012). p. 213.
Charles Glaser, Will Chinas Rise Lead to
War? Why Realism Does not Mean Pessimism, Foreign
Affairs 90, 2 (March/April 2011). p. 91.
Noel M. Morada and Christopher Collier,
The Philippines: State versus Society, in Asian Security Practice: Material and Ideational Influences (Ed)
Muthiah Alagappa (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2001).p. 550.
Ronnie Gil L. Gavan, Organized National
Engagement (ONE) at Sea: Optimizing the States Option for Maritime Security, Digest 19, 1 (First Quarter
2012).p. 10.
China Wants Philippines to Seek Permission before Spratlys Oil Search, BBC Monitoring AsiaPacific (10 June 2011). p. 1.

National Security Council, National Security Policy 2011-2016 (Quezon City: National Security
Council, April 2011). p. 39.

Office of the Deputy Chief-of-Staff, Armed
Forces of the Philippines: Strategic Intent (Quezon
City: Camp Aguinaldo, 2011). p. 27.

Secretary of the Department of Defense,

Defense: Planning Guidance 2016-2021 (Quezon City:
Department of Defense March 2015).p. 4.


Aurea Calica, Aquino: Government Can
Now Afford to Buy New Fighter Jets, The Philippine
Star (17 May 2012). p. 2.
Asia News Monitor, Philippines: F/A-50s
to Boost Countrys Capability to Defend Territory,
Asia News Monitor (21 October 2013) p.1. http://

BBC Monitoring Asia-Pacific, South Korea, Philippines Sign Agreement on Export of Fighter
Aircraft, BBC Monitoring Asia-Pacific (28 March 2014).
p. 1

Asia News Monitor, Philippines: DND
Eyes Acquisition of Two Brand New Frigates, Asia
News Monitor (15 August 2013). p. 1. http://search.
Asia News Monitor, Only Best, Affordable Naval Ships will be Acquired for the Philippines,
Asia News Monitor (09 January 2013). p. 1. http://

Ibid. p. 4.

Jim Garamone, U.S.-Philippine Pact Expands Defense Cooperation, Targeted News Service
(28 April 2014). P. 1
For details regarding this new forms access arrangements see Robert Harkavy, Thinking
about Basing, Naval War College Review 58. 3 (Summer 2005). pp. 12-42.

Ibid. p. 1

Janes Country Risk Daily Report, Japan
and Philippines Sign Defense Pact, Janes Country Risk
Daily Report (4 July 2012) 19, 134. p. 1. http://search.
Jerry E. Esplanada, Philippines, Japan to
Enhance Maritime Security Ties, Philippine Daily Inquirer (9 July 2012). p. 1 http://globalnation.inquirer.
Asia News Monitor, Philippine/Japan:
Philippines, Japan Agree to Enhance Cooperation in
Maritime Security, Asia News Monitor (14 January
2013). p. 1.
BBC Monitoring Asia-Pacific, Philippines, Japan Agree to Strengthen Defense Ties, BBC
Monitoring Asia-Pacific (27 June 2013). p. 2. http://

Ibid. p. 2.

Richard A. Bitzinger, Recent Developments in Naval and Maritime Modernization in the

Asia-Pacific: Implication for Regional Security, The
Chinese Navy: Expanding Capabilities, Evolving
Roles (Washington D.C: National Defense University,
2011). p. 24.

Jiji Press English News Service, Japan, Philippines to Cooperate on Chinas Air Defense Zone, Jiji
Press English News Service (13 December 2013). p. 1.

GMA News Philippine Navy to Acquire
Largest Ship in Inventory, GMA News (23 January
2011). p. 1.

Gulf News, Aquino and Abe Discuss Maritime Disputes, Gulf News (25 June 2014).p. 1. http://


See Sheena Chestnuts Greitens, The U.S.
Alliance with the Philippines: Challenges and Opportunities, U.S. Alliances and Partnership at the Center
of Global Power (Eds) Ashley J. Tellis, Abraham M.
Denmark, and Greg Chaffin (Seattle and Washington,
D.C.: The National Bureau of Asian Research, 2014). p.

Ibid. p. 128.


Ibid. p. 128.



Agency (28 April 2014). p. 1. http://search.proquest.




Ibid. p. 1.


Ibid.p. 1.


Ibid. p. 1.

Japan-Philippines Joint Declaration: A
Strengthen Partnership for Advancing the Shared
Principles and Goals of Peace, Security, and Growth
in the Region and Beyond (Tokyo: Ministry of Foreign
Affairs, 4 June 2015).

Philippine News Agency, New Defense
Agreement Enhances Philippine, U.S. Alliance on Security ChallengesDND Chief, The Philippines News




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