Commentary on Political Economy

Sunday 16 January 2022

 Philippines buys $500m missiles in poke at China

Emma Connors

Jan 16, 2022 – 3.56pm

Singapore | The Philippines has upped the ante in the contested waters of the South China Sea by buying a $US374.9 million ($519.5 million) supersonic missile system able to fire at enemy ships from land, sea and air.

Defence Minister Delfin Lorenzana on Friday confirmed the Philippines had signed a deal with India to acquire the BrahMos anti-ship missile system. The supersonic cruise missile, developed jointly by India and Russia, is among the world’s fastest.

A Chinese frigate launches an anti-ship missile during military exercises in the South China Sea. AP

Security analysts say the system marks a shift in strategy for the Philippines, which has had several run-ins with Chinese Navy and Coast Guard vessels in recent years.

China maintains it has historic rights over 90 per cent of the South China Sea, including territory claimed by the Philippines. Beijing has ignored a 2016 ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration that rejected China’s claim.

“The Philippines is moving into a step change capability, one that gives the country the wherewithal to stop an aggressive naval power,” said Euan Graham, a security and defence analyst at the Institute for International Strategic Studies in Singapore.

He described the deal with India as “a significant commitment” for the Philippines. “It demonstrates they are re-orienting their defence away from internal security to conventional defence. China is the Philippines’ only serious threat.”

It is also a reminder that those countries most threatened by China’s maritime expansion are increasing their defence capabilities.

Emulating China’s example

Vietnam, which is also fighting China’s advances into its territorial waters, and Indonesia, often irritated by boundary-pushing Chinese fishing fleets, already have anti-ship missile systems.

Australia is acquiring similar capabilities for its F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets.

China also has extensive anti-ship missile systems and to some extent those countries threatened by the rising power are emulating its example, Dr Graham said.

“China has used long-range, precision missile capabilities to make it more difficult for other navies to operate close to its coastline. So, there is a mirror imaging, action-reaction in what Vietnam, the Philippines and Australia is doing.

“If China is a big porcupine, these other countries are turning themselves into little hedgehogs. They want to make sure there is risk for an aggressor. For the Philippines, that’s vital given it is an island archipelago that is difficult to defend.”

The Philippines is also the first in the region to purchase this system from India.

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