Russia’s Sub Sale to the Philippines Would Stabilize the South China Sea
The Philippines is willing to go forward with a prospective Russian submarine deal despite heavy American pressure.
President Duterte rebuffed the earlier criticism of his plans that US Assistant Defense Secretary for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver warned “wouldn’t be a helpful thing to do in our alliance” by rhetorically asking “who are you to warn us?”, which was followed up by the Russian Embassy in the Philippines suggesting that Schriver’s statement “may point to an acute attack of colonial syndrome”. It was recently disclosed that Russia has already trained some of Duterte’s bodyguards and plans to do the same with some of his country’s naval personnel too, which would correspond to the possibility of Moscow selling Manila some of its state-of-the-art submarines that it’s already provided to nearby Vietnam.
The US understands that its previous monopoly over its former colony’s military procurement needs is rapidly drawing to a close and that the purchase of big-ticket items such as submarines would lead to an extended relationship with Russia that would augur well for multipolarity, which is entirely against America’s interests, especially as it tries to “contain” China in the South China Sea. About that, some might wonder why Russia would sell submarines to the Philippines if these can only realistically be used against China one day in spite of Beijing being Moscow’s most trusted partner, but a closer look at the nuances of “military diplomacy” reveals the strategy behind this move.
Russia’s post-Cold War arms sales have interestingly been focused on maintaining the balance of power between different pairs of rivaling states, be they Armenia & Azerbaijan, India & China, or China & Vietnam, with the most recent opportunities being with Turkey & Syria, Saudi Arabia & Iran, Pakistan & India, and possibly also the Philippines & China. The guiding concept is for Russia to retain the strategic state of affairs between each of these rivaling pairs in order to prevent the US from decisively shifting the balance one way or another in favor of its preferred partner and therefore encouraging a military conflict or some degree of brinksmanship that it could later exploit.
Russia’s prospective submarine sale to the Philippines would sideline the US Navy and therefore lay the basis for making Moscow, and not Washington, Manilla’s long-term military partner in this regard. The resultant elevation of Russia’s regional status in the South China Sea, when taken together with its already solid military and energy partnerships with Vietnam, could conceivably enable Moscow to exert restraining influence on Hanoi and Manilla in order to constructively contribute to a peaceful settlement of their maritime delineation issues with Beijing. It’s an admittedly ambitious strategy at this point, but it’s nevertheless a step in the right direction of gradually diminishing the US’ regional influence and is therefore more helpful than harmful to China’s interests.