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Inside The Chinese Arms Package To The Philippines

May 19, 2017

One of Asia’s largest defense contractors might be finalizing a hefty arms deal with the Philippines. Though details remains scarce it was reported that during the One Belt One Road summit in Beijing members of Poly Technologies, a military-industrial conglomerate, discussed the matter with President Duterte, who’s made it a personal mission to establish a lasting alliance with Beijing.

No less than Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana brought up the matter in a separate press conference on May 14. Lorenzana revealed little except the value of the transaction, which reached $500 million. As for specifics, the type and quantity of arms wasn’t discussed.

Lorenzana emphasized the deal is arranged as a line of credit worth the stated amount. This translates as direct military aid from Beijing at a time when Manila is cutting off its longstanding alliance with Washington, DC. But the material assistance is timely as well since the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is burdened with several outstanding acquisitions that haven’t been fulfilled, like bulletproof vests and night vision goggles.

The South China Morning Post reported the deal, even with Duterte’s blessing, hasn’t been finalized. Lorenzana admitted that beyond a Letter of Intent from Poly Technologies, whether or not the transaction is completed depends on the AFP’s personal evaluation of the equipment.

Unmentioned is China’s persistent attempts to gift the Philippines with weapons. This dates back to December 2016, when Duterte was promised $14 million worth of small arms and equipment after an assault rifle purchase with the US was blocked over human rights concerns.

The grant from last year hasn’t been fulfilled and dangling half a billion dollars more might not even be enough to sway the AFP, who still prefer their NATO-standard equipment.

Lorenzana did tell journalists the hardware from Poly Technologies met NATO specifications. This is correct. Chinese manufacturers have enjoyed access to Western technology since the 1980s thanks to limited cooperation from the US, France, and Israel. Poly Technologies in particular is known for its armored vehicles and infantry equipment. Everything from Humvees to knock off M4 carbines and Kevlar helmets are available from them.

The Philippines is no stranger to Chinese-made weapons. For decades firearms made by Norinco were available to locally registered arms dealers. The police have sourced their rifles and ammunition from the mainland for just as long.

But the implications of a shift to Chinese-grade weapons for the armed forces are troubling. Beijing uses its military largess to keep Cambodia and other pseudo-allies on its side–an old strategy dating to the Mao Zedong era–and lots of PLA gear is suited for the ground forces fielded by developing countries anyway.

However, for Poly Technologies to deliver $500 million of arms to the AFP comes with some ugly strings attached. It renders the government’s efforts at self-reliance moot, further complicates existing inventory, and burdens thousands of soldiers with stuff that’s useless for protecting national borders at risk from China’s militarized artificial islands. It doesn’t bode well for the navy and air force’s modernization plans either, since these could be axed as national security is re-oriented toward counter-terrorism rather than maritime disputes.

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