Manila angers Beijing with Japanese arms deal

The arrival of five unassuming TC-90 planes is unlikely to threaten Beijing’s dominance in the South China Sea. Source: Wikimedia

The Philippines is to lease five Japanese aircraft to patrol its disputed sector of the South China Sea, President Benigno Aquino has said, causing Beijing to react angrily.

The Philippine military has been shifting its focus to territorial, marine defence, allocating 83 billion pesos (US$1.77 billion) until 2017 to upgrade its air force and navy. It is also fighting an increasingly bitter series of Islamist insurgencies in its unstable south.

Aquino told a press conference at an airbase south of Manila that he had done more to build the archipelago’s air force than the three previous administrations, increasing the number of planes and helicopters to transport troops and patrol the waters it claims.

“All this new equipment will enhance the capability of the air force to guard our territory,” Aquino said.

The US and South Korea have already offered to bolter Philippine air power and Aquino said Washington would soon deliver two refurbished C130 transit planes.

“We are also leasing from Japan five TC-90 training aircraft to assist our navy in patrolling our territories, particularly in the West Philippine Sea,” the president said.

Beijing expressed alarm about the aircraft deal with Tokyo.

“If the Philippines’ actions are to challenge China’s sovereignty and security interests, China is resolutely opposed,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told the media.

“I also want to point out that Japan is not a party to the South China Sea issue and we are on high guard against its moves. We demand that Japan speak and act cautiously and not do anything to harm regional peace and stability.”

China, the world’s second-largest economy, with Japan as the third largest have a parallel conflict over the uninhabited East China Sea islands.

The Philippines and China claim the Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea, although Beijing’s grip on the island is almost complete.

Aquino did not say when the Japanese aircraft would arrive.

Seoul has supplied two light fighters and is due to send 10 more by 2017, he said. Manila was also awarding contracts for six close air support and two long-range patrol planes, the president announced. Three air surveillance radars were also set to be installed.

There was also talk of a squadron of “multi-role fighters”, air-defence missile batteries, early warning aircraft and drones.

China claims almost the whole of the South China Sea, which sees an estimated US$5 trillion worth of goods sail through its contentious waters every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have overlapping claims with China.

An arms trade deal signed with Japan stated that the weapons would not be transferred to a third party.

The deal is still being finalised.

Philippine military spokesman Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla said: “We are not yet aware of the actual terms and conditions of the lease agreement, including the cost and duration.”