Philippine Security Implications from China’s Growing Maritime Capabilities

Philippine Security Implications from China’s Growing Maritime Capabilities

by Andrea Chloe Wong
January 6, 2022

This essay examines the principal threats to the Philippines brought about by China’s maritime forces, assesses the Philippines’ responses to these threats, and considers options for cooperation with the U.S.



As the Philippines continues to face Chinese military assertiveness in the South China Sea, its weak maritime capabilities further reinforce the value of maintaining its security alliance with the U.S. despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s “independent” foreign policy. Even with the modernization efforts of its military, the Philippines cannot match China’s powerful navy, coast guard, and maritime militia. These Chinese maritime forces have almost crossed the red lines that the Duterte administration drew to warn against China’s provocative actions at sea. Thus, to confront Chinese maritime threats, the Philippines carried on with its security cooperation with the U.S. through an institutionalized alliance that insulated relations from Duterte’s anti-U.S. sentiments. As his term draws to a close, the Philippines looks forward to a new administration that will reset bilateral relations and support more security engagement to address maritime issues in the South China Sea.

    • The Philippines must contend with Chinese maritime forces that have become more aggressive and unhindered in recent years, endangering the country’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights, despite its arbitration victory over China in 2016.
    • The Philippines’ inadequate maritime capabilities yet vital geostrategic location present opportunities to pursue security engagement with regional stakeholders and other countries to counter Chinese maritime threats.
    • The Philippines-U.S. alliance can be elevated from modest security cooperation under Duterte to an enhanced military collaboration under his successor, which can serve as a counterweight to China’s maritime force.

Andrea Chloe Wong is a Nonresident WSD-Handa Fellow at the Pacific Forum. She formerly served as a senior foreign affairs research specialist at the Foreign Service Institute, an attached agency of the Department of Foreign Affairs in the Philippines.