ONE of the many vital questions in Philippine foreign policy that has been consistently asked by Filipinos and people in the foreign policy circle ever since the Philippines received its independence from the United States in 1946 is, “Are Filipinos better off with the Americans, or without them?”
Likewise, Filipinos nowadays are also asking what the implications are for the Philippines of the US’ Pivot to Asia foreign policy and the Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) given that the Philippines and the US are treaty allies under the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) of 1951 and ratified in 1952 by both governments.
Also, despite the apparent pivot of the incumbent Marcos administration’s foreign policy to the US, for the sake of argument and to offer a diverging perspective, it is still pretty much pertinent these days to ask how Philippine foreign policy should adjust to the changes in the geostrategic environment underpinned by the US-China geopolitical competition and rivalry.
Major powers’ competition and rivalry
Indeed, the rivalry and competition of major powers, particularly between China and the US, are among the major geopolitical concerns of small countries like the Philippines. The rise of China is indeed seen by the US and other Western countries as one of their most important and central long-term strategic concerns in the Indo/Asia Pacific region and beyond.
Hence, it is imperative for the Philippines to adapt and adjust to the changing geostrategic and geopolitical realities and environment of the Indo-Pacific region and beyond while protecting its core national interests and mitigating its sense of vulnerability amid the heightening competition and rivalry between the existing dominant power, the US, and the rising power in Asia and beyond, China.
One of the many perspectives that have gained traction thus far on how the Philippines should position itself and navigate amid the heightening competition and rivalry among and between major powers is the idea that the Philippines should try to insulate itself from the strategic rivalry of the US and China.
One way to do that is to terminate or rescind the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the MDT. Such action will allow the Philippines to alter China’s actions in the disputed South China Sea because “it is the fear of military encirclement by Washington that is driving China’s behavior” in the SCS.
Also, the abrogation of these lopsided military agreements/treaties with the US, which are manifestations of the excessive US influence in the Philippines, would provide the country the option of neutrality or a recalibration of its geostrategic alignment vis-à-vis China and the US. Doing away with the military alliance with the US will allow the Philippines to “move towards a position of neutrality” which suggests “rejecting outright alignment with Washington on the configuration that the country is better off balancing between the United States and China in the pursuit of its core national interests.” Furthermore, the abrogation of the MDT, VFA and EDCA will somehow weaken the US forward presence in Southeast Asia, and will impair and debase, to a greater extent, US military operations in the Indo-Pacific region, which is good for the peace and stability of Asean and wider Asia Pacific region.
To note, the MDT, EDCA and VFA, in many ways, established, legalized and legitimized to a greater extent US presence and a certain level of control over the Philippines. These treaties served as not only the “de facto security” guarantee for the Philippines by allowing the presence of several American military bases in the country but assured the US of a military foothold in the Philippines, which in many respects, substantially framed the Philippines within the ambit and under a semi-colonial control of the US.
Because of these security agreements/treaties, the Philippines, for more than a century, has been an important outpost for US defense and security strategy in the Asia Pacific or the Indo-Pacific region. It is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, Asian partners of the US and strategically a major non-NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) ally. Likewise, for the same reason, the Philippines, to a greater extent, remains within the sphere of US influence and semi-colonial control even today.
Amidst the foreign policy shift of the current administration pivoting to the US, before it’s too late, it is imperative for the Philippines and the Filipino people to reflect if, indeed, as a country, it is taking a right foreign policy track. The Philippines should look at the bigger geopolitical picture and considerations, most notably the interests of Western powers, and pivot to the Asia policy of the US to contain and prevent the rise of China. This is important.
One must take cognizance of the fact that China is a rising power in Asia and beyond. This reality is what the US and its Western allies have been trying to prevent for some time now by striding up and hastening its confrontation with China on all fronts. The country is being used as a pawn and a hostage in this regard at the expense of the good relations between the Philippines and China.
The US and its Western allies are sowing opportunities or situations to see the Philippines and China hard-hitting each other instead of being friends which can resolve matters and differences through diplomacy, bilateral talks and friendly negotiations.
Hence, in the middle of the escalating differences and tensions between China and the US, together with its allies, as a country, we should be more discerning and more mindful of the undercurrents and undertows behind the statements and declarations of these western powers. As a country, we must be more cautious in approaching situations and incidents in the disputed SCS and the Taiwan question. As much as possible, the Philippines must avoid being in the middle of the rivalries of the two superpowers (China and the US) because if not, and if we are not careful, we will be the casualty at the end of the day. And this is not to our advantage. This is not our national interest, and the country will be significantly disadvantaged. Thus, as a country, we should act cautiously and be broad-minded enough to see things clearly, considering the more significant geopolitical issues the world faces.
Source: The Manila Times