The Philippines is a Southeast Asian country that has a tense and complex relationship with China, its neighbor and largest trading partner. The Philippines and China have been involved in a territorial dispute over the South China Sea, where both countries claim sovereignty and rights over islands, reefs, and waters that are rich in natural resources and strategic importance.
The Philippines and China have also been involved in a diplomatic and security dispute over the presence and activities of Chinese vessels and personnel in the Philippine waters and airspace, which the Philippines considers as intrusions and provocations.
The Philippines is also a cyber security challenge and concern for China, as the Philippines is a major source and target of cyber attacks in the region and in the world.
The Philippines ranks among the top 10 countries with the most cyber attacks, and among the top 20 countries with the most vulnerable cyber security systems. The Philippines has also been accused and suspected of launching or hosting cyber attacks against China and its interests, such as hacking Chinese government websites, stealing Chinese military secrets, and spreading anti-China propaganda.
In February 2024, China offered to help the Philippines in tracking and prosecuting hackers, who have been behind a series of cyber attacks against Philippine government websites and agencies. The offer was made by the Chinese Embassy in Manila, after the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) of the Philippines revealed that some of the cyber attacks were traced back to a location in China, and that the attackers used a Chinese state-owned telecom company, China Unicom, as their internet service provider.
The offer was welcomed by the DICT, which said that China had reached out to ask for cooperation and assistance in the investigation of the cyber crimes, and that China had requested for more details and information about the incidents, so that they could find and identify the perpetrators within their territory. The DICT also said that China had assured that it did not allow or tolerate any cyber attacks on its soil or using its infrastructure, and that it was willing to help and cooperate with the Philippines in enhancing and strengthening their cyber security and defense.
The offer was also welcomed by some analysts and observers, who said that it could be a sign of a thaw or an improvement in the relations between the Philippines and China, which have been strained and troubled by the disputes and the tensions over the South China Sea and other issues. They also said that it could be an opportunity and a platform for the Philippines and China to build and foster trust and confidence, and to address and resolve their differences and conflicts, through dialogue and diplomacy.
China’s offer to help the Philippines in tracking and prosecuting hackers could have various implications and consequences, not only for the cyber security and the public interest of the Philippines and China, but also for the bilateral relations and the regional dynamics between the Philippines and China, and between China and other actors in the region and in the world. Some of the possible implications are:
- China’s offer to help the Philippines could improve the cyber security and the public interest of the Philippines and China, by preventing and reducing the cyber attacks and the cyber threats that could harm or disrupt their government websites and agencies, and their critical infrastructure and services, such as banking, health, and energy. China’s offer to help the Philippines could also improve the cyber security and the public interest of the Philippines and China, by enhancing and sharing their cyber capabilities and resources, such as data, technology, and expertise, and by developing and implementing their cyber policies and standards, such as laws, regulations, and protocols.
- China’s offer to help the Philippines could also improve the bilateral relations and the regional dynamics between the Philippines and China, by creating and fostering a positive and constructive atmosphere and environment, and by opening and facilitating more channels and avenues for communication and cooperation, on various issues and areas of mutual interest and concern, such as trade, investment, tourism, and culture. China’s offer to help the Philippines could also improve the bilateral relations and the regional dynamics between the Philippines and China, by easing and lowering the tensions and the hostilities, and by building and maintaining the peace and the stability, in the South China Sea and in the region.
- China’s offer to help the Philippines could also pose some challenges and risks for the cyber security and the public interest of the Philippines and China, such as the availability and the reliability of the evidence and the information, the accountability and the transparency of the process and the outcome, and the protection and the privacy of the data and the users. China’s offer to help the Philippines could also pose some trade-offs and costs, such as the resources and the time required to conduct and complete the investigation and the prosecution, and the potential and opportunity losses from not using or collaborating with other cyber security partners or providers, such as the US, Japan, or Australia.
- China’s offer to help the Philippines could also create and increase the suspicion and the criticism from some sectors and groups in the Philippines and China, and from some actors in the region and in the world, who may doubt or question the sincerity and the motives of China’s offer, and who may accuse or blame China of using or abusing its offer as a tool or a tactic to influence or interfere in the affairs and the interests of the Philippines and the region. China’s offer to help the Philippines could also create and increase the complexity and the uncertainty of the bilateral relations and the regional dynamics between the Philippines and China, by adding and introducing more factors and variables, and by raising and complicating more issues and questions, in the field of cyber security and beyond.