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Philippines told to come up with plan amid US-China tensions

AN MV-22B Osprey takes off from the USS New Orleans (LPD 18) somewhere in the South China Sea. — U.S. PACIFIC FLEET

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

POLITICAL analysts on Sunday urged the government to craft a contingency plan to help the Philippines withstand possible shocks from escalating tensions between the United States and China over Taiwan.

Both countries would likely intensify diplomatic offensives to “consolidate regional opinion behind them,” Herman Joseph S. Kraft, who heads the University of the Philippines Political Science Department, said in a Viber message. “Given that Taiwan seems to be at the center of the current issue, the country should have contingencies activated that are not just about how we are going to get our overseas workers out of Taiwan,” he added.

Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. last week met with US State Secretary Antony J. Blinken in Manila as part of his larger Southeast Asian tour — something that Mr. Kraft said might cause trouble for the region. Mr. Blinken arrived in the Philippines days after US House Speaker Nancy Patricia Pelosi visited Taiwan, which is being claimed by China. Ms. Pelosi’s Taiwan visit angered China, leading it to scrap several pacts with the US including cooperation on transnational crimes and drugs. China also halted talks on climate and change and said it would stop accepting deportees from the US.

“The rivalry between the US and China is definitely moving along regardless of what countries in the region would prefer,” Mr. Kraft said. “China’s reaction to the Pelosi visit shows that it is now treating the US as an overriding threat and global issues where cooperation between the two superpowers is paramount are of secondary importance to its rivalry with the US.”

Mr. Kraft said the Marcos government should try to keep relations with both, but the dynamics between the US and China might make it difficult to do so.

The Philippines should take into account the risks and opportunities brought by the competition between the US and China, Dindo C. Manhit, president of Stratbase ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

He added that Mr. Marcos should go beyond the strategic competition and look for a broader alliance of nations that values a rule-based international order, something that experts had also recommended to his predecessor.

“That will allow the Philippines to advance its strategic interests,” Mr. Manhit said. “Compared with the Duterte administration, the Marcos government has continued to engage with both powers in an effort to become a more relevant player in the region,” he said. “It is also in the best interest of the Philippines to pursue a limited balancing strategy to safeguard its national security and avoid unnecessary risks.”

Mr. Manhit said Mr. Blinken’s Manila visit “demonstrates the relevance of the US-Philippine alliance despite being challenged by the policy pronouncements of the previous administration.”

“Given the current regional security landscape, the Marcos administration should harness these opportunities to advance the country’s strategic interests and contribute to maintaining peace and stability in the region,” he added.

He said engagements with like-minded states such as the US, Japan, Australia and the European Union “create an opportunity for the Philippines to promote a rule-based international order wherein shared democratic values can be fully realized.”

Mr. Blinken at the weekend said the US would come to the defense of the Philippines if it is attacked in the South China Sea, ad he sought to allay concerns about the extent of US commitment to a mutual defense treaty with the Southeast Asian nation.

During meetings in Manila dominated by discussion on rising US-China tensions over Ms. Pelosi’s Taiwan visit, Mr. Blinken said a 70-year-old defense pact with the Philippines was “ironclad.”

“An armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels and aircraft will invoke US mutual defense commitments under that treaty,” he told a news briefing. “The Philippines is an irreplaceable friend, partner and ally to the United States.”

Mr. Marcos said he did not think Ms. Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan had “raised the intensity” of conflict. “It just demonstrated how the intensity of that conflict has been,” he told Mr. Blinken, based on a transcript of the meeting send by the presidential palace. “It actually has been at that level for a good while, but we got used to it and put it aside.”

The Philippine leader said he hoped the country’s relationship with the US “will continue to evolve in the face of all changes we have been seeing.” He added that the Mutual Defense Treaty with the US is “in constant evolution.”

“As I spoke with your ambassador some time when she came, [I said] we cannot, we can no longer isolate one part of our relationship from the other,” Mr. Marcos told Mr. Blinken. “We are too closely tied because of the special relationship between the United States and the Philippines and the history that we share.”