Philippine Foreign Policy is at a Crossroads
With a handshake in the White House, U.S. President Joe Biden and Philippine President Ferdinand “Bong Bong” Marcos, Jr., (PBBM) erased any lingering doubts about the security ties between the two countries. The visit also ushered a new page for the Marcoses who President Biden welcomed with open arms. PBBM is the first Philippine president to visit the White House after some ten years hiatus.
Clearly, the trip was a great balancing act for PBBM who is still trying to accommodate both superpowers who are currently at odds with respect to Taiwan. The “One China Policy” that the United States observed for decades has been set aside in favor of Taiwan. Taiwan’s newfound notoriety is anchored on it being the world’s biggest supplier of semiconductors and nearly 90% of the most advanced ones that the U.S. military relies upon for its advanced weaponries.
Then senator Joe Biden was one of the most vocal critics of the late dictator, PBBM’s father, but is now the Philippines’ strongest supporter because of Taiwan being America’s national interest. All these talks about a “special relationship,” “shared friendship,” between the United States and the Philippines are nothing but means to achieve a desired end or outcome. PBBM knows this but close relationship with the U.S. is paramount to his effort to remake the Marcos brand.
The reality of such a “special” relationship has always been in favor of the United States from the get-go. Historically, there is always talk about modernizing the Philippine military for it to be able to protect the country from external threats. In reality, however, the Philippines will always occupy that box of “not ready” for self-governance and gets a trickle of arms that are decades behind in modernity.
Part of the presidential talks to bolster regional security is for the U.S. to deliver three used C-130 cargo planes. Much like in the past, it is a striptease when the Philippines gets hand-me-downs military armature from the U.S. including coast guard and supply ships. If the Philippines wants modern weaponry, then it must cough up the money for it. Otherwise, all it gets are mothballed military hardware and must be paid maintenance contracts.
The renewed friendship post Duterte allowed the United States through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), to obtain additional “basing” rights guaranteed under the agreement that former President Benigno “Noy Noy” Aquino III signed in 2014. The four new bases, three in Northern Philippines close to Taiwan; and another in Palawan within a striking distance from the coveted Spratly Islands, convey two unmistakable messages: Defense of Taiwan and the Philippine EEZ claim in the Spratlys.
China is predictably upset with these arrangements but threatens the Philippines with tirades and bullying. Filipinos, especially from the Left, are hyperventilating that the U.S. is back again in the Philippines and would make the country a magnet for China’s nuclear attacks. When PBBM raised the issue to President Biden about China’s aggressive stance in the South China Sea, he got Biden’s assurance that the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) is ironclad. Meaning, the U.S. is bound to defend the Philippines if militarily attacked by China.
The question to ask, however, is “is it really?” Here are some hard facts to swallow. Will the U.S. Congress really grants President Biden the War Powers Act over some floating rocks in the South China Sea, if China attacks a Philippine military ship cruising in the disputed territories? The answer is most likely, no. The MDT was never ratified by the U.S. congress and will not gamble America’s future over some floating rocks.
Can President Biden go to war with China without consent from the U.S. Congress? The answer is again no, unless China attacks the U.S. or its territories (i.e., Guam) first, which it will not do. China is espousing an aggressive posture in the South China Sea because it can and there is nothing the U.S. can do to stop it as long as it is not impeding freedom of navigation for U.S. ships and those bound to South Korea or Japan.
Will the U.S. respond in kind if Taiwan is attacked by China? The answer is yes because Taiwan is a declared national interest by the U.S. Which means, American forces in the Philippines will be part of the conflict. If China attacks Taiwan and the U.S. joins the fray, can China attack the Philippines? The answer is yes because it is the U.S. they’re attacking and not the Philippines.
There are plenty of historical precedents that the United States will behave this way. First, the Spanish-American War did not include the Philippines but since Spanish forces were on the island and at Manila Bay, the U.S. attacked and defeated the Spanish forces with the help of the Filipinos. The U.S. then bought the Philippines for $20 million and began its colonial empire on the island.
Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and later the Philippines because American forces were on the island and there were American bases in several locations. The Philippines was not at war with Japan, but it became collateral damage.
The biggest question, of course, is will China attack Taiwan? The answer is a resounding, “no.” Why? China is Taiwan’s biggest trading partner consisting of 25% (about $635 billion) versus the U.S. which is only about $85. Meaning, China’s over 1.4 billion population depends greatly on such trade. Can you imagine 1.4 billion hungry Chinese? Mao Tse Tung rose to power capitalizing on hungry Chinese from the countryside. President Xi Jinping knows full well how big of a threat that would be to his political survival.
If China is unwilling to attack Taiwan despite its saber rattling, then why is the U.S. raising the temperature in that part of the world? Well, there is a presidential election in the U.S. in 2024 and the economy will definitely be number one on the list of issues. By raising the stakes in the Korean Peninsula which borders the Koreas and Japan, the U.S. was able to sell $4 billion to South Korea and Japan for missile defense systems.
Japan will get 53 standard missiles for its Aegis systems on Kongo-class destroyers including two Aegis ashore missile interceptor batteries. These are in addition to the earlier purchases Japan made for OSPREY helicopters. South Korea gets 31 MK 54 lightweight torpedoes for an estimated $72 million for its torpedo hunters. These in addition to about 80,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea and Japan.
The State Department has approved a $2.5 sale of F-16 fighter jets to the Philippines and 24 Sidewinder tactical missiles and 24 training missiles. The Philippines also purchased three shore based BrahMos anti-ship missile systems from India and one will be positioned in Batanes Island while the two other in Palawan and Zambales. As part of the Philippine missile defense system, the U.S. deployed a Patriot missile defense system in Aparri, Cagayan facing Taiwan as part of the largest military exercise between the two countries, Balikatan 2023.