As China pursues its expansionist ambitions in Asia, notably in the contested South China Sea region, an Australian defense and security expert has suggested to the Philippine government to build a military base on one of the islands in the disputed Spratly archipelago.

But will the current administration have enough guts to do this?

In a recent online interview, Carlyle Thayer, emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales and the Australian Defense Force Academy, stated setting up a military base on Thitu (local “Pag-asa”) island would be a clear demonstration of the country’s sovereignty over the region. Likewise, send a strong message to China that their aggressive subjugation presence in the area is “unacceptable behavior.”

The biggest of the Kalayaan Island Group, “Pag-asa” Island, is administered by the Kalayaan municipality in Palawan province. It is home to around 400 Filipinos and is 277 miles (445 kilometers) west of Puerto Princesa City and approximately 579 mi (932 km) from the capital city. It is also 30 km (18.6 mi) from China’s military base on its manmade island in Subi Reef.

Disputed Spratly Islands
Map of the overlapping territorial claims over the South China Sea (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Thayer, moreover, urged Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to strengthen the country’s military cooperation with Australia, Japan, and the United States—suggesting that work be done on expanding treaties and developing diplomatic procedures for dealing with the increasing presence of the Chinese Coast Guard and naval militia vessels in the disputed region.

“It is imperative that signatories of these treaties clarify and present the same position to China that this is unacceptable behavior,” Thayer said.

Thayer highlighted the treaties, including the Philippines’ Mutual Defense Treaty, the Status of Forces Agreement, and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US, which could significantly boost maintaining a solid defense and deterrence against China.

He explains that these compacts would allow the Philippine armed forces, mainly its Navy and Coast Guard, to visit and conduct maritime patrol around the disputed region frequently. Furthermore, enable allies to run naval drills and other military activities.