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South China Sea: Philippines urged to prioritise diplomacy even as navy prepares for ‘worst-case scenario’

Analysts expressed concern over the growing military posturing, emphasising the urgent need for diplomatic negotiations alongside bolstering defence capabilities to prevent the dispute from spiralling into open conflict.

“We discussed many [issues] during our security cluster meeting, not just the ground operation. But we can do it as a country using all the instruments available to us,” he told reporters, adding the agencies were exploring all available countermeasure options.

“We will be adjusting our operations, but we can’t divulge what those adjustments are,” he said.

President Marcos Jnr said in a statement on Thursday that Manila would implement unspecified “countermeasures” to China’s “aggressive and dangerous attacks” against Filipino troops and fishermen in the West Philippine Sea, as he directed his defence forces and concerned government agencies to counter Beijing’s actions.

The West Philippine Sea is the name Manila uses to refer to the South China Sea’s waters that lie within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Rommel Banlaoi, a national security analyst, told This Week in Asia on Sunday that he was alarmed with the current situation, given that both Manila and Beijing were increasing their military countermeasures.

“That will really raise the risk of armed conflict in the area,” said Banlaoi, a professor and counterterrorism analyst chief at the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.

Banlaoi said the Marcos Jnr administration should strengthen law enforcement and military capability to assert the country’s sovereign rights in West Philippine Sea, but he noted that would require “greater access to new maritime assets”.

“Meaning we need to buy new assets or get them from our allies …