Adverse effects of US-Philippines Balikatan military exercise linger

China Military Online
Lin Congyi
2024-05-15 13:13:29

By Wang Sheng and He Xianqing

After nearly 20 days of deterrent joint military drills, the annual Balikatan, or shoulder-to-shoulder military exercise between the US and the Philippines finally came to an end on May 10. It is worth noting that the US-Philippines joint military exercise set several records, which may indicate that there will be a profound adjustment of the US-Philippines military alliance in terms of combat missions and operational directions and that the military competition on the Western Pacific may become more complex.

First, this is the first Balikatan joint military exercise conducted after the Philippines' new security strategy was released. In January, the Philippine military introduced a new military strategy called the Comprehensive Archipelagic Defense Concept to extend the Philippine armed forces' scope of responsibility beyond territorial waters and into its so-called "exclusive economic zone".

Second, the military exercise area went beyond 12 nautical miles from the Philippines’ territory towardthe South China Sea for the first time. This marks a major change in the geographical location of the exercise, indicating that the Philippines recklessly uses the military exercise as an opportunity to infringe on China's territorial sovereignty in the South China Sea.

Third, this is the first time that the military exercise has been conducted simultaneously in the directions facing both the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait. The US and the Philippines declared that the military exercise prioritized operations in the South China Sea and the Luzon Strait to concurrently enhance their military interoperability and military coordination capabilities in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, thereby forming a mutually responsive posture in the two areas.

Fourth, this is the first time that the military exercise has carried out the deployment of deterrent weapons. During the military drill, the Typhon Weapon System was deployed on the Philippine island of Luzon for the first time. The land-based vertical launch system can launch missiles with a range of more than 2,000 kilometers to threaten China's southeastern coastal areas, sensitive areas of the South China Sea as well as the Taiwan Strait.

Fifth, this is the first time that the military exercise has involved more major powers outside the region in the disputed waters in the South China Sea. For the first time, France and Australia participated in maritime exercises off Philippine territorial waters during the military drill. In addition, the US and the Philippines invited 14 countries, including Japan, the ROK, India, Canada, the UK, France, Germany, and New Zealand, to send military observers to "witness" the military exercise.

It is by no means accidental that the US-Philippines 2024 Balikatan military exercise created so many "firsts". In fact, this is the result of a conspiracy between the US and the Philippines as the Biden administration seeks to further contain China and the Marcos Jr. administration attempts to expand its maritime rights and infringe upon China's territorial sovereignty. This has exerted a severe negative impact on the security situation in the Western Pacific Region, at least for the few years to come.

First, the Philippine government led by Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is likely to intensify its efforts to expand infringe on China's territorial sovereignty, and the possibility of the Philippines becoming a "proxy" of the US in the region and triggering a regional conflict is growing sharply. The US' assistance to the Philippines by enhancing its military modernization capabilities and practicing new tactics of shipping illegal materials through the military exercise significantly increased the latter's confidence to make provocations in the South China Sea. The deployment of some deterrent weapons by the US on Luzon Island also sent the Philippines a wrong signal. As a result, there is an increasing possibility for the Philippines to misjudge the situation and take risky actions.

Second, the mutual trust between Chinese and the US militaries has suffered a serious setback, making it possible for China and the US to engage in a more intense military competition or a new round of arms race at sea. During the 2024 US-Philippines Balikatan military exercise, the US deployment of medium-range missiles on the Philippines' Luzon Island was a severely provocative and deterrent act, sending a very threatening signal to China. This may seriously weaken China's trust in the US.

Third, some forces outside the region may intervene more frequently in the South China Sea issue in the name of safeguarding freedom of navigation. The military exercise not only entered the so-called "exclusive economic zones" claimed by the Philippines in the South China Sea, but also allowed warships of some countries to move beyond the Philippine territorial waters into the disputed waters of the South China Sea. This also exposed that US' promise of "does not take sides" on territorial disputes over islands and reefs in the South China Sea is nothing but a lie, and revealed the real intention of some countries in the region to act as the US’ lackeys and disturb the South China Sea situation while ignoring the historical facts of the South China Sea issue and infringing on China's national sovereignty and legitimate maritime rights and interests.

However, no matter what deterrence the US-Philippines military exercises want to show off and what their respective intentions are, China's determination and will to safeguard national sovereignty, security and development remain unchanged, and so does its original aspiration to maintain regional peace and tranquility and its commitment to address the South China Sea issue through political dialogue. The US and the Philippines should stop creating imaginary enemies and scaling up unilateral infringement. Moreover, they should give up the delusion to use deterrence to force China to make concessions on issues related to its core national interests.

(The authors are respectively president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies and assistant researcher of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies.)

Editor's note: Originally published on, 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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