It was such an emphatic word to describe the relationship between the Philippines and the United States especially given the tensions in the region and the complicated past of the two nations’ bilateral relations. But this was how President Joseph Biden described his country’s commitment to the Philippines defense.
Biden told President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. at the start of their meeting: “We are facing new challenges and I couldn’t think of a better partner to have than you. The United States also remains ironclad in our commitment to the defense of the Philippines, including in the South China Sea, and we will continue to support the Philippines military modernization.”
This was an important assurance from the United States given the geopolitical issues facing the region. As President Marcos correctly pointed out during the same meeting: “(the) Philippines finds itself in possibly the most complicated geopolitical situation in the world right now.”
President Marcos has continued to impress me specifically with regard to his deep understanding of geopolitics. He knew that the Philippines is an indispensable ally primarily due to our strategic location. We are just south of Taiwan and adjacent to the South China Sea. In a military skirmish, the United States’ access to military facilities in the Philippines could be very critical. President Marcos also understands the need to strengthen the country’s military capabilities and its ability to counter China’s aggressive posturing even within our Exclusive Economic Zone. Deepening ties with Washington is a key part of Marcos’ foreign policy.
The President is also acutely aware of the geopolitical importance of Taiwan. In a previous interview, he said: “When we look at…the tensions in the Taiwan Strait, we can see that just by our geographical location, should there in fact be conflict in that area…it's very hard to imagine a scenario where the Philippines will not somehow get involved.”
But Marcos is also aware of the importance of China, our largest trading partner. This was the key objective of his visit to Beijing early this year which sought to encourage closer economic ties and more stable relations with China.
I have mentioned this in the past. A key strategy in the Marcos foreign policy is a balanced approach — more specifically walking a tightrope with respect to the two superpowers flexing their muscles in the region. For instance, while the United States still leads investment in Southeast Asia ($40 billion in 2021); China has been trying to catch up by almost doubling its investment to nearly $14 billion according to the 2022 ASEAN Investment Report.
The second official trip of the President was very important. Aside from securing investments including a pledge from Biden to launch a new trade mission to the Philippines that would lead to increased American investment in the Philippines’ innovation economy, new educational programming, among others, President Marcos also secured three C-130 aircraft and two coastal patrol vessels as well as deepened cooperation and interoperability between the two nations’ militaries across land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace.
The US trip was part of the administration’s effort to increase our ability to defend ourselves and at the same time craft a direction toward stability and peace. These two visits to the United States and his earlier Beijing trip are part of a calibrated approach to secure regional stability. Marcos understands that while the primary domestic focus of his administration is to strengthen our economy and ensure prosperity, all these will be for naught if conflict occurs in the region. Stability and peace are crucial to development.
I am certain that all countries do not wish for war. China’s second highest official Li Qiang said: “To achieve greater success in Asia, chaos and conflicts must not happen in Asia; otherwise the future will be lost.” He is correct. The greatest deterrent to conflict is prosperity. We just hope all peace-loving nations adhere to this precept.