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Armed and ready: Asia-Pacific countries ramp up defence spending amid heightened tensions

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr gave a thumbs-up for the cameras from the backseat of an FA-50 fighter jet just before it took off from Clark Air Base in Pampanga, south of the capital Manila, on March 7.

The aircraft carrying the commander-in-chief flew west over a military training area near Zambales, a coastal province facing the South China Sea. Mr Marcos would return to base minutes later, impressed by the pilot’s skills and even more convinced that modernising the military is key to counter Beijing’s rising aggression in the disputed waters.

“The modernisation of the Air Force, of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, is certainly a response to the growing complication of the situation that we are facing in the region,” Mr Marcos would later say in another speech before the military at the same air base on March 31.

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Rising risk of arms races in Asia spiralling into major conflict

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