The U.S. and the Philippines held a new "shoulder to shoulder" joint military exercise in the Subic Bay, north of the Philippines, on April 5, 2013. Compared with exercises of previous years, this year's "shoulder to shoulder" exercise is larger in scale, but the attitudes toward this military exercise are revealed in sharp difference between the government and military figures of the two countries: The U.S. repeatedly emphasized that the exercise aims to strengthen bilateral cooperation in dealing with such matters as terrorism, piracy, smuggling and natural disasters, while the Philippines deliberately created topics to stress its response to territorial disputes and threats from surrounding countries. It is really doubtful whether the U.S. and the Philippines can really have a "heart to heart" relation behind the "shoulder to shoulder" exercise.
In the opening ceremony of the exercise, Thomas, U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, stated that the exercise mainly focused around "disaster relief". However, he avoided touching any sensitive topics such as the U.S.-Philippines military cooperation, the South China Sea issue and so on. On the other hand, Del Rosario, foreign secretary of the Philippines, touted the Philippines-U.S. military cooperation at the opening ceremony and made accusation against China over the South China Sea issue.
In this joint exercise, the U.S. side mobilized a large amount of advanced navy and air force equipment, while the Philippines had but little to show in contrast. As is well-known, the Philippines has only backward naval equipment, while its navy and air forces will by no means have compatible strength to keep themselves on an equal footing to hold this coordinated exercise with the U.S. military. From this perspective, the main military significance of this U.S.-Philippines joint military exercise rests in the fact that the U.S. can make use of the Philippines to maintain its presence in this region. It is true that the U.S. is willing to use the Philippines as a "springboard", but will it be willing to charge forward on behalf of the Philippines and serve as a bodyguard for the Philippines whenever needed?
In fact, the U.S. has been very cautious in the process of its return to the Asia-Pacific region. On one hand, it is providing military support to the Philippines and other allies. On the other hand, it has expressed its position in favor of neither side in regards to the territorial disputes, lest it may be dragged into the dispute. When history looks back upon, we find that the U.S. will only measure the extent to which its interventions lie in regional affairs based on its own interests. For every action taken by the U.S. military, the core reason is always for its own national interest. The U.S. would never risk itself for others.
Therefore, the little trick that the Philippines played in this U.S.-Philippines exercise will simply not affect the security and stability in this region, and will certainly not shake China's determination to safeguard its rights and interests in the South China Sea! Making use of the military exercise to intimidate others is not going to help solve issues, but will add new factors of instability to the security and stability of the region.
By Zhang Guifen, Academy of Military Sciences of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA)
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