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David vs. Goliath in the South China Sea: The Philippines vs. China

October 23, 2014 Topic: SecurityMilitary Strategy Region: ChinaPhilippines

David vs. Goliath in the South China Sea: The Philippines vs. China

Manila seems to have placed almost all of its strategic eggs in the (uncertain) legal basket.

With its recent acquisition of two Russian-made, state-of-the-art Kilo-class submarines, Vietnam has also beefed up its minimum deterrence capabilities. Hanoi has also welcomed Washington’s decision to relax existing restrictions on arms exports to Vietnam, which could aid Vietnam’s efforts at developing its civilian law-enforcement capabilities.

Given the expansive nature of Chinese maritime claims and paramilitary patrols, Indonesia has also accelerated its efforts at streamlining its maritime policy, under a proposed Sea Security Agency (Bakamla), while expanding defense spending to transform the country into a “global maritime nexus.” Indonesia, which has openly criticized China’s “nine-dash-line” doctrine, is heavily concerned with Beijing’s posturing near the hydrocarbon-rich Natuna Islands.

Overall, it is clear that China’s rivals in the Western Pacific have hedged their bets by rapidly developing their maritime capabilities, while astutely maintaining critical diplomatic channels with the leadership in Beijing. The Philippines, meanwhile, seems to have placed almost all of its strategic eggs in the (uncertain) legal basket.

Richard Javad Heydarian is an Assistant Professor in international affairs and political science at De La Salle University, and a policy advisor at the Philippine House of Representatives. As a specialist on Asian geopolitics and economic affairs, he has written for or interviewed by Al Jazeera, Asia Times, BBC, Bloomberg, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, The Diplomat, The National Interest, and USA TODAY, among other leading international publications. He is the author of How Capitalism Failed the Arab World: The Economic Roots and Precarious Future of the Middle East Uprisings (Zed, London), and the forthcoming book The Philippines: The US, China, and the Struggle for Asia’s Pivot State (Zed, 2015). You can follow him on Twitter:@Richeydarian.