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Manila may boost US ties amid China belligerence

SCREENGRAB FROM PHILIPPINE COAST GUARD

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

CHINA’S belligerence would probably force the Philippines to strengthen its alliance with the United States, political analysts said on Sunday.

“Our alliance and strong relations with the US are a significant component of the Philippines’ capability to challenge China,” said Enrico V. Gloria, who teaches international relations at the University of the Philippines.

“Our robust defense relations with the US definitely figures in China’s foreign policy thinking towards the West Philippine Sea,” he said in a Facebook Messenger chat, referring to areas in the South China Sea within its exclusive economic zone.

“Therefore, the alliance remains a useful deterrent to any unilateral action from China that may threaten the status quo in the South China Sea,” he added.

Mr. Gloria said the former administration’s pivot to China was mainly “predicated on the US’ unclear security guarantee to the Philippines,” as well as issues regarding how the US treats small powers.

The Philippines will get military helicopters from the US after canceling a contract with Russia, Mr. Marcos said last week.

This was after the US government gave the Philippines $100 million in foreign military financing, which a US envoy said the Marcos government could use to offset the terminated Russian deal.

The Duterte government canceled the contract in June for fear of potential US sanctions after Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Observers consider China as Russia’s biggest ally.

The new US military financing was announced after a meeting between Mr. Marcos and US President Joseph R. Biden in New York last month.

“We have definitely seen a revived Philippine-US relations under President Marcos,” Robin Michael U. Garcia, a political economy professor at the University of Asia and the Pacific, said in a Messenger chat.

“China is watching closely,” he said. “So far, China is being kept close, but not too close.”

Mr. Gloria said the foreign policy shift was triggered by the failure of Mr. Duterte’s China pivot to produce significant benefits for the Philippines, whose national interests had been compromised by the pro-China policy.

The former leader had been accused of gambling Philippine territories in exchange for investment pledges that critics say few had materialized.

Mr. Gloria said Mr. Marcos, 65, must manage public pressure for the government to stop bowing to China, which has increased its aggression against Taiwan.

Taiwan, which China considers part of its territory, is about 400 kilometers from northern Philippines.

“Filipinos are still waiting for significant benefits that can be attributed to this China strategy,” the analyst said.

“Another consideration would be the resilience of the US-Philippines alliance in itself as an inevitable component of our foreign policy and strategic thinking,” he added. “The way we do things in this arena is still largely influenced by our alliance with the US, whether leaders like it or not.”

He  said the US-Philippine alliance has been a consistent element of Philippine foreign policy since 1951. “The past six years is an outlier experience as far as Philippine power alignment and foreign policy is concerned.”

Mr. Gloria said the Philippines under Mr. Marcos could also hedge by not taking sides in the power struggle, while pursuing closer ties with third parties or middle powers.

“It’s common to all small powers in the region to hedge between the US and China,” he said.

“The more uncertain the global strategic environment is, especially in terms of the benefits, costs and guarantees that both powers can exclusively provide to these small powers, it is more likely that we will see hedging strategies being adopted by these countries, including the Philippines,” he added.

“With a hedging strategy, we avoid putting our eggs in one basket and therefore in the process, much more efficiently guarantee our security and interests.”

The US must work hard to ensure that its intentions and guarantees for the Philippines are clear.

The US also has defense alliances with Australia, Japan, Thailand and South Korea.

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