MANILA, Philippines – For experts who spoke to China's state-run newspaper, the motive is clear behind the Philippines' annual Balikatan military exercises with the United States: to target China amid the ongoing tension in the South China Sea.
In an interview with China Daily, US studies professor Shi Yinhong said “the US and the Philippines view China as the imaginary target, which is 'very clear' judging by the training courses their militaries use.”
“The number of participants and the training content suggest the US intends to deter China in the short term from imposing any possible military threat to the Philippines. As for the long-term significance, the regular drill certainly strengthens the strategic military alliance between Washington and Manila to contain Beijing in the South China Sea,” said Shi, who teaches at the Renmin University of China.
Another expert, Li Guoqiang, told China Daily that the ongoing Balikatan drill is “merely one of the frequent joint exercises of the US and the Philippines.”
“However, in such a sensitive area and at such a sensitive moment, the drill conducted by a country that has disputable claims with China and no other maritime threat speaks to a hidden motive for (the Philippines),” said Li, director of the Research Center of Chinese Borderland History and Geography in China's Academy Social Science.
China Daily published these comments Tuesday, April 17, the same day when China blamed the Philippines for the escalating tension in the disputed Scarborough Shoal.
'Not about China'
More than 4,000 American troops and 2,000 Filipino soldiers began joint exercises in the Philippines on Monday, April 16. The war games will last for 11 days.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines, however, has emphasized that Balikatan 2012 is not about China but about reaffirming alliances especially in “difficult times.”
In a Thought Leaders piece for Rappler, veteran China watcher Chito Sta Romana reported a growing perception that the South China Sea represents “a new Persian Gulf.” He said this is due to the disputes over its islands and reefs, abounding in fishery resources as well as oil and gas deposits.
Top diplomat Rodolfo Severino, for his part, said the problem in the South China Sea is not military but diplomatic.
“Both sides could reiterate their commitment in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea 'to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,'” Severino wrote in another Thought Leaders piece. – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.