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Why Asean is watching the Philippines’ strategy in South China Sea

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Under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the Philippines is raising its game to cope with an increasingly aggressive China in the South China Sea.

Synopsis: Every fourth Friday of the month, The Straits Times' global contributor Nirmal Ghosh shines a light on Asian perspectives of global and Asian issues with expert guests.

Increasingly dangerous encounters between Chinese and Philippine Coast Guard vessels in the South China Sea - claimed almost in its entirety by China but also in part by several other countries including the Philippines - have deepened worries over accidental escalation, not least because the Philippines and the United States have a mutual defence treaty. 

The administration of President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. has taken a more robust stand on China relative to his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, and the Philippines has sharply upped its defence budget and is enhancing its defence cooperation and military interoperability with the United States.  

However, neither the Philippines nor the United States have the appetite for conflict with Manila's giant neighbour - China. 

To shine a light on the Philippines’ strategy, host Nirmal Ghosh has two guests in this episode:

1. Former rear admiral with the Philippine Navy Rommel Ong - now professor of praxis at the Ateneo School of Government in the Philippines

2. Dr. Colin Koh, senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore

Highlights (click/tap above): 

1:43 Why did the Philippines allocate more budget for defence and maritime security in 2024?

3:48 Dr Koh on the Philippines facing uncertainties; Why Prof Ong does not expect a significant increase in US troops in the Philippines

7:58 Dr Koh and Prof Ong on China using "grey zone" tactics like water cannons and aggressive blocking manoeuvres in the South China Sea

8:27 Could tensions escalate to armed conflict in the South China Sea?

14:52 "War" of a different kind between the Philippines and China since April 2023

Produced by: Nirmal Ghosh ( and Fa’izah Sani

Edited by: Fa’izah Sani

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