It is often quoted that the Philippines’ foreign policy is a back-and-forth between China and the USA. But it’s not the whole truth. From history until today, the Philippines has had one major security partner: the United States of America. If she wants to withdraw that claim, she will no longer be able to secure her maritime claims. The bromance of China and the Philippines’ partnership over infrastructure building is not something rooted in history. It gets hyped during the Duterte era as the USA backlashes against Duterte’s strategy to control drug warfare.
China’s continued assistance to the Philippines is part of Beijing’s strategy to make the Philippines reliant on its investment. China is smart enough to not indulge itself in any kind of warfare. Beijing is well-known for using soft strategies to make countries dependent on her and take what she considered hers a long time ago. According to the 2017 data from the Philippines Statics Authority, China has contributed 2.2% of foreign direct investment. But major foreign direct investment has still been made by Japan (30.3%) and the USA (8.3%). Even during the Duterte era, no major infrastructure development has been done in Beijing. However, Japanese investment dominated the scale even in 2018.
China is smart enough to not indulge itself in any kind of warfare.
The USA, however, is a long-term defence partner of the Philippines. Their first security agreement happened in 1951 and was called the Mutual Defence Treaty. This treaty laid the foundation for a close security partnership between both countries. Moreover, in 1998, it was enhanced by the Visiting Force Agreement (VFA) and then in 2014 by the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). Article V of the Mutual Defense Treaty states that,
“An armed attack on either of the parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the parties.”
Even though the text can be interpreted in various ways because, at the time of signing the agreement, the Philippines had no claim on the now-controlled Philippine territories in the South China Sea, neither the United States nor Canada have recognized it. But the ambiguity itself is a blessing for Philippines, because they are in a security agreement with one of the major players.
The history of the alliance is complex yet visible. Philippines is a country whose people share a closer affinity with America than China. Philippines and America: Both countries have strong people-to-people ties as well as historical and cultural ties. The population of the Philippines still thinks that America is its safest strategic partner and that it is the only country that can help the Philippines secure its maritime claims in the South China Sea. However, China’s case is the complete opposite. Heydarian said that Beijing was blessed enough that Duterte gave them the political opening, but Duterte failed to propagate a good image of China in the eyes of the public. Public opinion more or less remained the same even after his era. He said of the Chinese, quote, unquote: “They are looking for some sort of Hun Sen. They are not going to get Hun Sen in the Philippines.”
Both Philippines and America have strong people-to-people ties as well as historical and cultural ties.
The Filipino’s tilt is still toward the U.S. Their military holds joint exercises every now and then. This year’s Balikatan (which means sharing the load together) exercise is the biggest one in seven years, held by both armies.
Moreover, contrary to the claims made every now and then, the Philippines’ foreign policy is still consistent and smooth. Governments come and go. They don’t represent the country. It’s the state or the institutions of the state that represent the country’s long-term standing or foreign policy. In the Philippines’ case, her armed institution has, from the very first day, made it clear that Filipinos will align themselves with the West. It is because of mutual or shared interests. However, the leaders of the state can show deviation from that claim. Former President Duterte was an exception in the Philippines’ political history. He was inspired by Mao and his strategies. He gave China an edge many times and let his guard down to align his country with Beijing. But when President Xi Jinping of China made a visit to Manila in 2018, the establishment of the state saw this as a threat to the relations between Manila and Washington and quietly increased their joint military exercises.
The tilt of Manila towards Washington is so obvious and natural because the Philippines is a Hobbesian state. So the foreign policy of the Philippines is realistic and state-oriented. Realism dictates that states must protect their sovereignty at all costs. It can only be ensured by increasing the country’s power. Making alliances and adhering to them is one of the prominent strategies of the realist states. That’s what Manila has done. She ensures her survival within the sphere of great power by sticking to the MDT of 1951. Because the strategic interest of the country always comes before any other interest, the natural ally of Manila will always be Washington.
Moreover, Washington provides much more aid to Manila than Beijing. Whether it’s in terms of economic progress or military modernization This year, Manila has also increased its defence budget by 8%. The underlying purposes are to secure the maritime claims and eliminate the internal insurgencies, mainly from the south of Manila.
All this can be proved by looking at the political and military history of the Philippines. Even though Duterte was an exception in Manila political history, when it came to aligning with the One Power, his agenda was clear. In the wake of the Moscow and Kyiv wars, he took the side of the west. Moreover, when his term was about to end, he also restored the VFA. The current administration has also made this clear with the statement that;
I see no future for the Philippines without the United States as a partner.Bongbong Marcos — President of the Philippines
The alliance’s system is what controls the power politics of countries and their survival. The case of the Philippines is also similar. The Philippines’ security necessitates the assurance of a larger player. For that, the USA will always be the safe option. Both countries want to limit China’s hegemonic design in the South China Sea. The purpose of that goal can be different, but the goal is the same. That’s what drives both of them into one equation.
However, how the alliance system can be made more effective is still an enticing question. In this regard, some explicit policy measures should be introduced. Moreover, more agreements can be signed to clear up the ambiguities.