The Philippine military must evolve quickly, says the defense secretary

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Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro speaks during the closing ceremony of the US-Philippines Joint Military Exercise Balikatan at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, Metro Manila on May 10, 2024. | Photo credit: AFP

The Philippine military must evolve quickly because of threats to a “free and open” Asia-Pacific region, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said May 10 at the end of annual exercises with the United States.

Mr Teodoro, whose comments were made against the backdrop of a festering maritime row with China, said the military should “try to concentrate on actual soldiering”.

“The worst thing in a kitchen is a dull knife, and a good chef sharpens the knife every day,” Mr Teodoro said.

“We will continuously increase the pressure to evolve them as quickly as possible into a force that can operate across multiple threats and theaters,” he said.

The annual ‘Balikatan’ war games, involving about 11,000 American, 5,000 Philippine and 100 Australian troops, began on April 22 and were concentrated in the northern and western parts of the archipelago, near the potential flashpoints of the South China Sea and Taiwan.

In the area, clashes between Chinese and Philippine ships around shoals in the South China Sea claimed by Manila have increased, as have Chinese air and naval activities around nearby self-ruled Taiwan.

Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea, rejecting rival claims from other countries including the Philippines and an international ruling that its claim has no legal basis.

It is deploying hundreds of coast guard, naval and other ships to patrol the disputed waters.

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The Chinese coast guard this year targeted Philippine ships with water cannons at Second Thomas Shoal and Scarborough Shoal in the disputed sea, causing damage and injuries.

“No amount of malicious, or for lack of a better term, perverse attempts to undermine our goal for a free and open Indo-Pacific and a rules-based international order will undermine our shared progress toward upholding this internationally accepted standards stop no matter what. Mr Teodoro said, using the United States’ preferred term for the Asia-Pacific region.

‘Shoulder to shoulder’

Lt. Gen. Michael Cederholm, commander of the U.S. First Marine Expeditionary Force, said the joint exercises — called Balikatan, or “shoulder to shoulder” in Tagalog — “immediately increased Allied warfighting readiness.”

“It should also give pause to any adversary who does not believe in a free and open Pacific, who does not believe in transparency, who does not seek a peaceful solution but who wants to use force to impose his will on other sovereign nations” , he said. said.

The row between the Philippines and China took another turn on Friday when Manila’s top security adviser called for the expulsion of Chinese embassy staff he accused of “malign influence and interference.”

The Chinese Embassy said in a statement on May 3 that diplomats had reached an informal agreement with the Philippine Armed Forces through the Western Command to handle disputes over Ren’ai Jiao, the Chinese name for Second Thomas Shoal, in the South China Sea.

Mr Teodoro said on Monday that there was no such agreement with Chinese diplomats.

On Friday, Philippine National Security Advisor Eduardo Ano accused the Chinese embassy of “repeated acts of engaging in and spreading disinformation, misinformation and bad information.”

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He said those “responsible for these malign influence and interference operations must be immediately removed from the country.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lin Jian said Friday that Beijing “solemnly demands that the Philippines effectively ensure that Chinese diplomats can carry out their duties normally and stop infringements and provocations.”

Second Thomas Shoal is garrisoned by Philippine troops stationed on a grounded Navy ship and regularly supplied by boat with food, water and other supplies.

The supply missions to the remote reef have become a flashpoint between the rival claimants.

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