In what is likely the final visit by a top Trump administration official to Asia, US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien dropped in this week to double down on defense cooperation, providing weaponry and rhetorical support to rally allies against China.
During an elaborate ceremony at the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, O’Brien announced the delivery of precision-guided weapons and smart bombs to the Philippines. The sale is consistent with outgoing President Donald Trump’s promise of $18 million defense assistance during a phone conversation with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, in April.
The American defense assistance package is ostensibly aimed at transnational terrorist groups active in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, but it’s widely believed that the ultimate deterrent target of the missiles is China and its rising assertiveness in Philippine-claimed waters in the South China Sea.
The Philippines ultimately aims to develop a so-called “minimum deterrence” capability through a systematic and sustainable modernization of its naval and air forces as well as the development of asymmetric capabilities including the deployment of missile systems that could give Chinese vessels second thoughts before intruding into Philippine waters.
While few regional countries are in a position to match China’s military might, they can deploy similar anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities similar to the ones Beijing has been developing in the region against much more powerful American forces.