Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Philippines Pushes Back against China

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Philippines Pushes Back against China

Article excerpt

MANILA, The Philippines -- China's most daring adversary in Southeast Asia is, by many measurements, ill-suited for a fight. The Philippines has a military budget 1/40th the size of Beijing's, and its navy cruises through contested waters with 1970s South Vietnamese hand-me-downs.

From that shorthanded position, the Philippines has begun a risky mission to do what no nation in the region has managed to do: thwart China in its drive to control the vast waters around it.

Analysts say the Philippines's strategy, in standing up to Asia's powerhouse, is just as likely to backfire as succeed. But it provides a crucial test case as smaller nations debate whether to deal with China as a much-needed economic partner, a dangerous maritime aggressor or both.

The Philippines doesn't view China exclusively as a threat, officials here say, noting that trade between the countries is growing. The Philippines also has used caution at times, most notably by holding off on provocative plans to drill in what could be the nation's richest oil and gas field.

But analysts point to a series of steps taken in recent months that suggest Manila is increasingly willing to confront Beijing. They also note that the Philippines has suspended or canceled several development deals that depended on generous Chinese aid.

Earlier this year, the Philippines filed a case with the United Nations contesting China's maritime claims. More recently, the Philippines has increased its manpower on disputed islands, approved upgrades to decrepit military equipment and discussed plans that would give the United States expanded access to its air and naval bases.

Speaking to his armed forces in May, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said the nation needed to protect its maritime territory from "bullies."

Battles over territory in Asia go back centuries, but China has made an increasingly aggressive play in recent years to recover land that it says fell wrongly into foreign hands. …

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