Philippines and U.S. Forge Maritime Unity Amid South China Sea Tensions

Philippines: 21 November 2023, In response to the escalating situation in the South China Sea, the Philippines and the United States have unveiled a groundbreaking collaboration involving joint maritime and air patrols. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. described this initiative as a “significant undertaking” and a testament to the commitment to enhance the interoperability of their military forces.

The joint patrols, set to take place off the island of Mavulis, signify a notable escalation in the strengthened ties between the Philippines and the United States. This year has witnessed a rapid enhancement of their defense treaty alliance, including the decision to nearly double the number of Philippine bases accessible to the U.S. military.

President Marcos Jr. conveyed the importance of this initiative through the social media platform X, stating, “This significant move is a testament to our commitment to bolster the interoperability of our military forces in conducting maritime and air patrols.” Eugene Cabusao of the Northern Luzon command revealed that the patrols would focus on the island of Mavulis, strategically positioned approximately 100km off Taiwan.

During a forum in Hawaii, President Marcos Jr. voiced concerns about the deteriorating situation in the South China Sea, noting the Chinese military’s increased proximity to the Philippine coastline. China’s expansive territorial claims, illustrated by the “nine-dash line,” have triggered tensions with neighboring countries, including Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

President Marcos Jr. has sought to strengthen Manila’s ties with the United States, steering away from a predecessor’s pivot towards China. Despite China’s development of military installations within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, President Marcos Jr. has taken a firm stance in realigning with the United States.

Relations with China have soured under President Marcos Jr., resulting in repeated stand

offs between Chinese and Filipino vessels in contested waters, heightening concerns of potential escalation. The joint maritime and air patrols, as outlined in a Philippine military statement, are scheduled to begin off the Batanes islands, extending west into the South China Sea.

In a show of force and commitment, the Philippines will deploy three navy vessels, two FA-50 light combat aircraft, and an A-29B Super Tucano light attack plane. Simultaneously, the United States will contribute a littoral combat ship and a P9-A maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft to the joint operations.

Jay Batongbacal, director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea in Manila, sees the joint effort as a clear demonstration of the Philippines’ commitment to its stance on South China Sea issues. “It shows that the Philippines is really firming up its posture on West Philippine Sea issues,” he emphasized, underlining the importance of safeguarding the Philippine exclusive economic zone.

This collaborative endeavor not only bolsters the defense capabilities of the Philippines but also sends a resounding message about the nation’s dedication to maintaining stability and security in the South China Sea. The joint patrols represent a significant shift in the geopolitical landscape, with the Philippines aligning itself strategically with the United States.

The decision to conduct joint patrols comes at a critical juncture when the Philippines seeks to assert its sovereignty and protect its maritime interests. President Marcos Jr.’s administration, faced with repeated standoffs with China, is taking proactive measures to address the challenges posed by territorial disputes.

The joint maritime and air patrols are not merely symbolic but a tangible demonstration of the alliance’s ability to respond to emerging threats in the region. The Philippines, in collaboration with the United States, aims to create a formidable presence in the South China Sea, deterring any potential aggression and safeguarding the interests of nations within the disputed waters.

As tensions continue to rise in the South China Sea, this alliance signals a united front against unilateral actions that challenge the established norms of international maritime law. The joint patrols serve as a proactive measure to ensure freedom of navigation and promote the peaceful resolution of disputes in the region.

In conclusion, the joint maritime and air patrols between the Philippines and the United States mark a pivotal moment in addressing the challenges posed by escalating tensions in the South China Sea. This collaborative effort not only strengthens the strategic alliance between the two nations but also reaffirms their commitment to regional stability and security. As the joint patrols commence, the world watches closely, recognizing the significance of this unified response to safeguarding the shared interests of nations in the South China Sea.