Strengthening Maritime Defense: Philippines and U.S. Launch Joint South China Sea Patrols

Philippines: 21 November 2023, In a significant move to enhance regional security, the Philippines and the United States have initiated joint maritime and air patrols in the South China Sea. This strategic collaboration, announced by Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., underscores the commitment to bolster the interoperability of their military forces.

The joint patrols, set to commence off the northernmost Philippine island of Mavulis, mark a pivotal step in the strengthening alliance between the two defense treaty allies. The decision to nearly double the number of Philippine bases accessible to the U.S. military further solidifies their partnership.

President Marcos Jr. took to social media to express the importance of this initiative, stating, “This significant move is a testament to our commitment to enhancing 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 area off the island of Mavulis, situated approximately 100km off Taiwan. This geographical focus aims to address the escalating tensions in the region, as highlighted by President Marcos Jr. during a forum in Hawaii.

Speaking on the situation in the South China Sea, President Marcos Jr. stated that it had become more “dire than before,” expressing concerns about the Chinese military’s proximity to the Philippine coastline. China’s expansive territorial claims, represented by the “nine-dash line,” have led to heightened tensions with neighboring countries, including Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

This joint initiative comes at a time when the Philippines seeks to reaffirm its ties with the United States after a period of strained relations with a predecessor who pivoted towards China. Despite the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone being encroached upon by Chinese military installations on manmade islands, President Marcos Jr. has taken a firm stance in realigning with the United States.

However, the deteriorating relations with China have led to repeated standoffs between Chinese and Filipino vessels in contested waters. These incidents have raised concerns about the potential for escalation and sparked heated rhetoric between the two nations.

The joint maritime and air patrols are scheduled to start off the Batanes islands, heading west into the South China Sea. The Philippines will deploy three navy vessels, two FA-50 light combat aircraft, and an A-29B Super Tucano light attack plane. In response, the United States will mobilize a littoral combat ship and a P9-A maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft.

Jay Batongbacal, the director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea in Manila, views this joint effort as a clear indication 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 remarked, emphasizing the importance of the Philippine exclusive economic zone.

This collaborative endeavor not only strengthens the defense capabilities of the Philippines but also sends a clear message about the nation’s dedication to maintaining stability and security in the South China Sea.