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Size of the mouth, size of the fist

TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag (The Freeman) - June 11, 2021 - 12:00am

It is okay to have a big mouth if you cannot pop a fist into it. An oversized fist can cover anything the mouth opens. It allows you to walk your talk. You can even let your fist do all the talking without having to show teeth. Recently Malaysia, one of the quieter types in ASEAN and quieter still among claimants to disputed areas in the South China Sea, scrambled some jets to intercept Chinese aircraft that drew to within 60 kilometers of its territory.

A few months back, Indonesia, another silent type in ASEAN, sent its navy to intercept Chinese ships that had intruded into its archipelagic waters. And even much farther back, Vietnam, often as quiet as the rose that bears its name, actually came to blows with China in a flareup of their share of the dispute in this tightly-contested body of water known as the South China Sea.

The Philippines? Well, the Philippines can only jet ski to the Spratlys. But even then, that is only meant as a joke. The last time the Philippines did try to jaw out China, it discovered China had a firmer jaw. By the time it skedaddled out of a lose-lose situation, it had lost precious real estate to you-know-who.

Here is why the foregoing countries acted the way they did. Indonesia has a standing army of 400,000 regulars plus another 400,000 in reserve. It has an Air Force of 224 combat aircraft that includes F-16 Fighting Falcons and SU-30s. It has four submarines, seven frigates and 24 corvettes. In its confrontation with China, China wisely sounded a retreat.

When Malaysian jets intercepted Chinese planes, they had the committed backing of 80,000 soldiers with 50,000 more in reserve. Its modern Air Force has 151 aircraft, including F/A 18 Hornets and SU-30s. The Royal Malaysian Navy has two submarines, eight frigates, six corvettes, and 45 fast attack craft.

Vietnam has an even bigger fist with a standing army of 482,000 regulars backed by a huge reservoir of, hold your breath, five million. Its Air Force has 282 aircraft, all of them Russian-made SUs of a wide array of variants. Then it has a Navy with six submarines, nine frigates, and 14 corvettes. With such a big fist, it very well could just keep its mouth shut, even if sometimes it doesn't.

The Philippines? Well, the Philippines has 140,000 foot soldiers with 360,000 in reserve (my good friend John Rey among them). Then it has 211 aircraft but none of which is top of the line or best in class. It has a Navy of 81 combat vessels. These consist of two frigates, one corvette, and 18 fast attack craft. What it lacks in fist size, it compensates with so much noise. If only disputes were resolved by shouting matches.

And what are these countries, put together, ranged against? The Chinese giant has an Army of 2,185,000 warm bodies plus 510,000 in the chiller. Another 600,000 are in the paramilitary forces. Its Navy has two carriers, 79 submarines, 50 destroyers, 49 frigates, 72 corvettes, and 104 missile boats. And it has 3,370 aircraft. It doesn't really matter whether its mouth or its fist is bigger.

ASEAN
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