Chinese aggression pushes Philippines closer to western partners

With China aggressively asserting its claims of almost the entirety of South China Sea, Filipino president Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his administration are actively calling out the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s actions and shoring up alliance with the U.S. and other new partners.

China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, some of it 500 miles (804 km) from the coast of China, in waters surrounding Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines. The CCP has militarized the Paracel and Spratly Islands by building military outposts and airstrips. Chinese coast guard and militia fishing fleets, have swarmed these waters and there were frequent clashes with Philippine fishing and supply boats in recent months.

In a latest incident on March 5, Chinese ships employed dangerous and provocative maneuvers and water cannons against Philippine boats carrying provisions to Filipino service members stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre, causing multiple collisions, damaging at least one Philippine vessel, injuring Filipino service members, and jeopardizing the safety of the Filipino crew.  

According to an international tribunal’s legally binding decision issued in July 2016, China has no lawful maritime claims to the waters around Second Thomas Shoal, also known as Ayungin Shoal, a low tide reef in the Spratly Islands within the Philippines exclusive economic zone. As provided under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, the 2016 arbitral decision is final and legally binding on China and the Philippines. 

On March 19, U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken visited the Philippines and met with President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. According to State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller, they emphasized the importance of the U.S.-Philippine alliance to security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and underscored their shared commitment to upholding international law in the South China Sea. 

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on March 18 said U.S. President Joe Biden will host Marcos and Prime Minister Kishida Fumio of Japan on April 11 at the White House for the first trilateral U.S.-Japan-Philippines leaders’ summit. The leaders “will advance a trilateral partnership built on deep historical ties of friendship, robust and growing economic relations, a proud and resolute commitment to shared democratic values, and a shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific.” 

Jean-Pierre said Biden “will reaffirm the ironclad alliance between the United States and the Philippines and emphasize U.S. commitment to upholding international law and promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Closer cooperation with new partners

Besides the U.S., Marcos, who took office in June 2022, has forged closer relationships with Japan, Vietnam, India, Germany, Czech Republic, UK, Canada, Sweden and France. He emphasized that South China Sea handles 60 percent of the world’s trade, and therefore, it is not only in the interest of the Philippines, but the entire world, to keep a safe passage for all international commerce at the South China Sea.

Marcos’ foreign policy is the opposite of his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who was pro-China and spurned the West. He downplayed the 2016 ruling and said the Philippines is no match against China in a confrontation, in exchange of economic concessions from the CCP. However, the CCP did not live up to the promised investment. And with continued malicious rhetoric and aggressive actions in the South China Sea, the CCP is effectively pushing the Philippines closer to the West.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said during an official visit to Manila on March 11, that American companies are set to invest US$1 billion in the Philippines in areas like solar energy, electric vehicles and digitization.

According to recent poll by Stratbase ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies, most Filipinos want to maintain good economic relations with the U.S., followed by Japan, while China ranks at the bottom, showing that Filipinos are unanimously willing to expand economic cooperation with countries that share common democratic values, and values of human rights and the rule of law.

Photo credit: iStock/ e-crow

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