Philippines must prepare as external threats grow, president says

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr said the Philippines should be prepared for any eventuality due to heightened tension in the Indo-Pacific region regarding sovereignty claims in the South China Sea as well as security issues around neighbouring Taiwan.

The Philippines has long clashed with China over the South China Sea. But the country’s proximity to Taiwan also puts it in China’s area of interest, Marcos told troops at a military camp in Isabela province in northern Cagayan region facing Taiwan.

China claims democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory and has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control. Taiwan strongly objects to China’s sovereignty claims and says only the island’s people can decide their future. Taiwan is home to more than 150,000 Filipinos.

“The external threat now has become more pronounced, has become more worrisome, and that is why we have to prepare,” Marcos told the troops on Monday in a speech shared by the presidential palace on Tuesday.

Last year, Marcos gave U.S. forces access to almost double the number of military bases at a time of concern over increased Chinese activity in the South China Sea and tension over Taiwan. China said the expanded U.S. access was “stoking the fire”.

China’s military conducted two days of war games around Taiwan last month including drills testing its ability to “seize power” and control key areas.

“Now you have two missions, whereas before it was only internal security,” Marcos told the troops, stressing the need to strengthen external defence capabilities.

Marcos said the Philippines was not trying to redraw lines of sovereign territory in the South China Sea including its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and that it was committed to defend itself while engaging in diplomacy.

Tension with China has escalated in the past year over frequent maritime run-ins within the Philippines’ EEZ in the South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion in annual shipping commerce.

China has “no business” being in the Philippines’ EEZ, Secretary of National Defence Gilberto Teodoro said in a statement.

“The main message is: The 10 dash line is the provocation. And everything flows from that,” Teodoro said, referring to a U-shaped line on Chinese maps.

The line, which China said is based on its historic maps, loops as far as 1,500 km (932 miles) south of its Hainan island and cuts into the EEZs of the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and Vietnam.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague invalidated China’s claims over areas of the South China Sea in 2016, a decision China rejected.

On Tuesday, a day before the Philippines’ Independence Day, over a hundred protesters gathered outside China’s consular office in Manila demanding China leave the Philippines’ EEZ.

REUTERS