Nearly 75 percent of the Philippines’ weapons imports since the 1950s have come from the US. This has left very little opportunity for the world’s second and third largest arms exporters, Russia and China.
On 13 September at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he was considering shifting priority away from the US for acquisition of defense equipment. He announced that possible deals with Russia and China were “in the pipeline”, and vowed to upgrade the nation’s armed forces to better address recent terrorist attacks. The US had offered F-16 jets to the Philippines this year, and had provided two warships, but Duterte said he would rather have smaller planes and bombers.
The president, who met with Chinese and Russian officials last week in Laos during the ASEAN summit, went on to say he would also be scrapping a deal reached in April 2016 by the US and the Philippine defense chiefs for joint patrols of disputed waters near the South China Sea.
It’s safe to say that the US, which supplies 33% of the global market for arms will not feel any palpable impact in total exports should Duterte follow through with his newly proposed realignment. However, new arms deals brokered in Asia are being observed closely, with many seeing these small shifts as a potential foreshadowing of a broader trend.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, an independent resource on global security, shows that Asia was the world’s main importer of weapons in the last five years, as countries race to arm themselves ahead of better equipped regional rivals. Arms exporters, particularly Russia and China, are aggressively moving to capture larger shares of the region’s spending.
Second Persian Gulf
The remarks on arms purchases came as the president continues efforts to mend relations with China which have become strained due to the South China Sea, often times referred to as the “second Persian Gulf”.
On July 12, after the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague rejected Beijing’s claims to territorial sovereignty across the South China Sea. It’s believed that the Philippines are most concerned with possibility that China will start building islands just 220 miles northwest of Manila on the Scarborough Shoal.
Following the international legal ruling in July, Russian naval forces announced plans to join Chinese forces for a joint exercise in the South China Sea in September. China and Russia have a long history of conflict and suspicion over adjoining territories between the two nations, but are recently seen to be trying to collaborate on overseas military cooperation. Chinese state media suggested the United States was to blame for the unfavorable decision courts in The Hague.