The Philippine navy hopes to add two more warships to its fleet as Southeast Asian countries continue to expand their militaries in response to the Chinese government’s increasingly assertive territorial ambitions in the South China Sea, also known as the West Philippine Sea.
Armed forces chief of staff General Emmanuel Bautista said the new acquisitions would come under the fresh U.S. military assistance plan announced last month by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry when he visited the Philippines.
China began widening its territorial claims about five years ago to include nearly all of the seas dividing Southeast Asian countries and their northern neighbor. The claims defy international standards and maritime law, and Beijing refuses to have the dispute heard before an international court.
Its attitude has angered Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines, but the four countries have struggled to forge a united front within the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) when dealing with Beijing over the issue.
Adding to recent tensions was Liu Yazhou, political commissar at the People’s Liberation Army National Defense University, who said in a magazine interview that the Chinese military could match the U.S. by “seizing opportunities.”
“An army that fails to achieve victory is nothing,” Liu was quoted as saying by a defense magazine “Those borders where our army has won victories are more peaceful and stable, but those where we were too timid have more disputes.”
That type of language again irritated its neighbors.
The Vietnamese have for the first time publicly marked a naval battle fought against China over disputed islands 40 years ago. Commemorations came a month after the Chinese government published new rules requiring foreign fishing vessels to seek Beijing’s permission to operate in much of the South China Sea.
Taiwan has rejected those regulations, described by some as potentially state piracy, while others have rejected or ignored them.
Vietnam has also moved to bolster its own defenses, taking delivery of its first Russian-made Kilo class submarine, which is part of substantial military upgrade by Hanoi – primarily through a multi-billion-dollar deal with Moscow. Malaysia has also added two French-made Scorpene submarines, boosting its own maritime capabilities.
Indonesia and Singapore are also expanding their fleets in what The New York Times described as “The Submarine Race in Asia.” The paper noted that much of this arms competition was being propelled by growing wealth in Southeast Asia but added these countries and China should realize that increasing their armaments can only undermine their security as well as the stability that nurtures their economies.
Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter at @lukeanthonyhunt.