Philippines mulls US$500 million arms buy from China
Defence Secretary explores buying hardware from state-owned Poly Technologies
The Philippine government may buy up to US$500 million worth of weapons and other defence assets from one of China’s largest arms dealers, as Manila looks to ease tensions with Beijing.
Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the purchase from Poly Technologies was part of the agenda of President Rodrigo Duterte in Beijing, where he was attending the “Belt and Road Initiative” summit.
“[China’s arms manufacturers] have equipment that is to Nato specifications, which is what we are using, so that’s OK,” Lorenzana saidahead of the summit.
The Philippines’ letter of intent for the arms purchase is non-binding, and Lorenzana said his country had not decided what type of hardware it was shopping for. He said the next step was to send a military team to Beijing.
Poly Technologies is a subsidiary of China Poly Group – a central government-administered enterprise originally founded by the People’s Liberation Army.
Duterte met China’s Premier Li Keqiang on Monday. In the talks, Duterte said the two nations were strengthening and deepening their cooperation.
Observers said greater cooperation between China and the Philippines could mean a further softening of Manila’s stance on bilateral South China Sea disputes.
Since 1950, the US has accounted for about 75 per cent of the Philippines’ arms imports, according to a database from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Duterte has said Russia and China would be willing arms suppliers after the United States refused to sell some weapons to the Philippines, citing human rights concerns.
In another sign of increased defence ties, the Philippine coastguard has sent 20 of its officers to China for two weeks of training in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, from May 4 to 20
Coastguard spokesman Armand Balilo said the training was part of Duterte’s mandate to strengthen cooperation between China and the Philippines, ABS-CBN news reported.
Richard Heydarian, a Manila political analyst, said the training and arms sales showed that both sides were seeking a strategic partnership as they restarted their dialogue over maritime disputes.
“Given the Philippine security establishment’s lingering concerns over Duterte’s rapprochement with Beijing, this could be a confidence-building measure, for it will upgrade currently minimal [military] interaction between the two countries,” he said.
Zhang Mingliang, a Southeast Asia analyst at Jinan University in Guangzhou, agreed that many in Manila still had doubts about the turn towards China.
“Duterte receives strong support from the grass roots in the Philippines, but the political establishment in Manila still favours the US and sees China as their biggest opponent in terms of security,” Zhang said.