Another week, another escalation of China’s ever-growing force and presence in the South China Sea.
China’s first entirely home-built aircraft carrier has begun sea trials, underscoring how the country is building naval assets to assert its maritime claims in the South China Sea.
Beijing now commands the world’s largest navy in terms of numbers of vessels, although it is still behind the U.S. in technology and combat capabilities.
The U.S. and Philippine forces began their largest annual military exercises, Balikatan, since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power —with the promise to scale back America’s military presence in the country. About 8,000 American and Filipino personnel along with small contingents from Japan and Australia began amphibious landing exercise in Zambales over the weekend.
Although US Ambassador to the Philippines attributes the military exercises as an embodiment of the robust relationship of both countries, many view as a blatant show of force against China’s territorial ambitions in the region.
On Friday, members of Malaya and other activists organizations, took to the steps in front of the Philippine Consulate General in Los Angeles calling for the end of the extrajudicial killings, protesting the sudden ouster of Chief Justice Sereno and the current iteration of Balikatan in the Philippines.
Among other issues, Raymond Palatino, a former party-list representative under the Arroyo and Aquino administrations, says he sees no clear benefit to the continued military exercises of the US in the Philippines.
“ hey said that the military exercises are part of disaster preparation. But we know the real reason, this is not disaster preparation, this is a battle for hegemony in the Asia Pacific between a rising China and a superpower US. Unfortunately, and gusto nilang gawing battleground here is the Philippines. Our long-term interests are not being boosted by these military exercises.”
But political science professor Doctor Steven Childs of California State University San Bernardino offers a cautious corollary to Palatino’s claims.
He says there are real benefits to Balikatan for both countries, especially in the current global political climate.
“There’s also humanitarian component to the exercises as well, but whats interesting about them this year’s is that there seems to be a mixed role, humanitarian component but as well as amphibious exercises like storming beaches and the likes. It’s being couched as counter-terrorism given what has happened to the south of the country recently. So at a certain level of military to military context, there is some value in that.”
Echoing Palatino’s sentiments, Fritzi Magbanua a teacher and resident of Marawi, says she also thinks the Philippines is capable of defending itself from threats to its sovereignty…but she says she’s also very concerned about what happens beyond the military trainings.
“Magiging biktima na naman muli ang mga kababaihan. Nangyari na dati pa, na para lang katuwaan nila, pang sariling interest ng mga kano..para sa kanilang kaginhawaan.”