US military assistance to Philippines is not a "sweet candy"

China Military Online
Huang Panyue
2023-04-20 14:54:19

By Dai Fan

The US and the Philippines are holding the largest-ever "shoulder to shoulder" joint military exercise for the past 30 years scheduled until April 28, the number of participant troops doubled compared to the exercise in 2022. And last week, the two sides restarted the 2+2 foreign and defense ministerial dialogue in Washington after a gap of seven years, which disclosed that they will launch closer cooperation in the military security field in the future. Some media believe that these two moves indicate that the two countries are re-solidifying their alliance.

US-Philippine annual "shoulder to shoulder" joint military exercise originating in 1991 is the most important part of their military cooperation, which aims to improve the military readiness level of the Philippines and interoperability between these two militaries. Since 2012, military personnel of Australia, Japan and the ROK had been invited to join this exercise, making it more targeted to the South China Sea issue and China, and changing from bilateral cooperation to multilateral cooperation.

The endorsement of Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the two parties in 2014 led to a historically record-high level of "shoulder to shoulder" military exercise in the following year. Amid intensified China-US competition and deteriorated China-Philippine relations, amphibious landing, dinghy landing and other subjects have been included in the exercise. Although the Philippine military persistently denies the expansion of this exercise targets China, then US President Barack Obama continuously criticized China's island construction projects in the South China Sea and bloated its threat to the Philippines. In addition, the exercise site is chosen at the Zambales base which is only 220 km from Huangyan Island. All these moves make it distinct that the "shoulder to shoulder" joint military exercise is attached with strong pertinence.

At the end of March 2023, the Philippines announced to increase four military bases to the existing five rotation bases for the US military on the premise of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) concluded in 2014. Among these new bases, one is just located on Barabak Island adjacent to the South China Sea, and another one is a maritime base in Cagayan province, which is only about 400 km from China’s Taiwan region. The US-Philippine 2+2 ministerial dialogue also dwelled on the usage of these four new military bases.

In addition, the dialogue also mentioned that the US will allocate more than 100 million US dollars of funds to reconstruct these military bases and provide the Philippines with new military equipment including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and air defense systems in FY2023. In the long run, these two countries will also formulate a "security assistance roadmap" to define the specific defense assistance items in five to ten years, with the ultimate goal of accelerating the modernization of their alliance.

The US is the most significant security and military partner of the Philippines. According to data from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in the 19 years between 2001 and 2020, the US provided at least 730 million US dollars of military assistance to the Philippines – and this is merely the official data. The US is also one of the main defense equipment suppliers of the Philippines. From statistics from the US Embassy in the Philippines, the US delivered a value of more than 765 million US dollars of airplanes, ships, armored vehicles, light weapons and other military equipment to the Philippines since 2015. What's more, the Philippines also highly relies on the US in terms of senior commander cultivation, personnel training and other aspects. Military education and training of Philippine military personnel have always been a major subject of US-Philippine security cooperation, and even its military construction and reform schemes are deeply influenced by the US. It can be said that the US influence onthe Philippine military can't be overstated in light of its institutional infiltration in the military and security of the latter.

US assistance and military cooperation with the Philippines are attached with obvious strategic considerations and egoist colors. Dragging the Philippines into its "strategic orbit" through security and military cooperation actually constitutes the established strategic target of the US.

Although the Philippines emphasizes that newly added military bases will not be used to "launch any offensive actions", it can still be drawn into an involuntary dilemma "passively" if these bases are exploited by the US military to monitor and gather regional military intelligence or provide supplies and logistic support for potential regional conflicts in the future. Therefore, the Philippines even needs to maintain strategic independence with sufficient wisdom and willpower at a critical time, which is of great benefit to itself and regional security.

(The author is Deputy Dean of School of International Studies and Dean of Center for Philippine Studies in Jinan University. This article is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information and opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of

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