MANILA, Philippines – The Chinese Defense Ministry on Tuesday, July 31, dispelled fear of its military on the eve of its 85th anniversary, which takes place amid territorial disputes with the Philippines and other countries over the South China Sea.
“The development of the Chinese armed forces poses no threat to any nation, in that it aims to safeguard state sovereignty, security, and development interests," said Wu Xihua, People's Liberation Army (PLA) vice director for emergency response, in a press conference a day before the PLA anniversary.
Wu said the Chinese military, in the first place, has a long way to go to match “the world's advanced levels.”
Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Geng Yansheng, also in the press conference, added that China “opposes any military intervention” in the South China Sea.
Photo courtesy of PLA Daily/China Daily
In a television interview aired Monday, July 30, however, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario noted the Philippines does not intend to match China's military capabilities.
“We are not looking for the military hardware to be able to fight the battle with any aggressor, like China, for example. What we are looking for is to establish a minimum credible defense posture," Del Rosario said in an interview on ANC, the ABS-CBN News Channel. By a minimum credible defense posture, Del Rosario meant equipment and structures to monitor Philippine shores, and ships to deter territorial incursions.
“It's not to be able to come up with a military that is intended to match that of China. That will never happen; we can't ever do that," Del Rosario said. "It is just to establish presence, and hopefully that presence will be a sufficient deterrent."
But China is arousing fear in Southeast Asia recently, in large part because of its decision to establish a military garrison in the South China Sea. The Philippines has protested this move, which, for Beijing, is merely a means to protect its sovereignty.
Thus, despite the Philippines' diplomatic protest, China even named military chiefs for its newly established garrison, state media reported Friday, July 27.
Countries belonging to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) have reason to fear, based on statistics.
In terms of active manpower, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) estimates that China's air force is over 20 times bigger than the Philippines'. The air forces of Asean countries, meanwhile, do not even add up to twice of China's.
China even trumps Asean countries, combined, in terms of aircraft. China has 2,910 while the whole Asean region has 1,676. The Philippines has 56.
South China Sea conflict?
In its latest report, however, the International Crisis Group (ICG) downplayed the likelihood of “major conflict” in the South China Sea because the disputes in the area have “reached an impasse.” The group then suggested the joint management of resources in the disputed areas, similar to China's long-standing proposal.
Other experts do not foresee conflict in the area even as tensions rise. Not even the United States would want to go to war with China, according to an analyst, despite a Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines.
“If you are (US President Barack) Obama right now, do you want a war in the South China Sea? The answer is, that will be a nightmare for him,” said Huang Jing, professor at the National University of Singapore's Center on Asia and Globalization, during a recent forum at the University of the Philippines.
Meanwhile, the Philippine government has been tight-lipped on its moves to settle South China Sea disputes, with President Benigno Aquino III stressing the need to show "goodwill" to Beijing. – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.