MANILA, Philippines — A lack of a coherent Philippine policy on China and its usual accommodation of Beijing’s interests may have contributed to the consolidation of Chinese military presence in the West Philippine Sea, an analyst said.
According to Jose Antonio Custodio, a non-resident fellow of think tank Stratbase Albert Del Rosario Institute, a careless “dalliance” with China might make the Philippines a major security threat in the region.
Custodio added that the news that President Rodrigo Duterte had invited China to conduct anti-piracy patrols in the Sulu and Celebes Sea could lead to a “furtherance” of its aggressive territorial ambitions.
“The Philippines used to be seen by many countries in the region as a minor security threat, and this might only be due to the spillover of terrorist activities by separatist and terrorist elements in Mindanao. A careless dalliance with Beijing just might change that,” Custodio wrote in a commentary on Philstar.com.
The Philippines, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping claims to the South China Sea, a resource-rich sea lane believed to hold vast reserves of oil and natural gas. The area in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone is called the West Philippine Sea.
China claims almost the entire area and in recent years have reclaimed features and transformed them into islands capable of hosting air and naval bases.
Although a United Nations-backed tribunal has invalidated Beijing’s expansive claims, President Rodrigo Duterte has chosen to set the ruling aside and chose to pursue warmer and friendlier ties with his giant neighbor, in an effort to court Chinese money and investments into the country.
Claudio said that Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia would deal with Chinese air and maritime assets without Manila’s interference and would be prevented from toughening their defenses and coordinating some form of action against China.
Filipino diplomats have also become more difficult to work with in issues related to China, according to Custodio.
“Attempts to discuss such issues with their Philippine counterparts are frequently met with delay or indifference. The current Philippine government, some claim, is either fearful of provoking Beijing leadership or is simply pro-Beijing,” he said.