PHL to US and China: Manage your rivalry; talk, be sincere, transparent


FOREIGN and defense ministers of the Philippines and the United States are meeting Tuesday (Wednesday PHL time) in Washington D.C. after a seven-year hiatus during the administration of President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo and National Defense Officer-in-Chief Carlito Galvez flew to the US and were welcomed by US State Secretary Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III for the US-PHL 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue.

The meeting comes a day after the Philippine and US military kicked off the largest ever Balikatan exercises with 17,600 troops participating in various parts of the Philippines, including the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

China also conducted a three-day combat-ready military drill around Taiwan after the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen visited the US and held a meeting with the US House Speaker Kevin MacCarthy.

Manalo described the 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue as “reforging” of the alliance between the Philippines and the US that needs to “transform, to be more firm” and to “fit the 21st century alliances” different from the post-World War II context 75 years ago.

In his speech before a US think tank, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Manalo underscored the need for the Philippines to improve its defense posture with the help of the Americans even while it engages China diplomatically on the West Philippine Sea (WPS) maritime issue.

“It is important that we continue working together, enhance our alliance, and modernize it so that it improves the security of the Philippines as well as the United States in the region,” Manalo said during the CSIS Asean Leadership Forum.

He said the Philippine-US alliance “stands proud in the nexus of relationships and arrangements buttressing the regional security architecture.” He didn’t identify these regional security arrangements but he may be referring to those involving the US—AUKUS trilateral alliance with Australia, the United Kingdom, or the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue involving Australia, India, and Japan.

“This architecture must maintain trust and confidence among parties, amidst US-China rivalry and other geopolitical pressures,” Manalo said.

He did not say if the Philippines would join any of the US-initiated multilateral security alliances.

“The present and future relationship between the US and China is a defining feature of this regional ecosystem. As responsible powers, each with a stake in the region’s long-term peace and security, Washington and Beijing need to manage their strategic rivalry, with dialogue and transparent and sincere engagement, where possible,” he added.

Like when China encircled Taiwan again for three days recently, Manila had been “concerned” as the conflict could “escalate into something more dangerous.”

“Taiwan is literally next door to the Philippines. Just looking at any kind of escalation of tension, or even worse, some kind of military conflict [in Taiwan Strait] would have really adverse repercussions on the Philippines given our proximity,” he said.

Compared to the tension in the Taiwan Strait brought by the visit of then US Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei last August, tension was “not that high.”

“The Philippines and the United States, individually and through our enduring, modern and responsive alliance, must ensure that even if this architecture heaves to the shifts in the dynamics and the multifaceted evolving interests of actors in the region, the rule of law is its fulcrum, and it brooks no challenge from any party engaging in any form of coercion, intimidation, the use and threat of use of force in violation of the UN Charter,” Manalo stressed.

The foreign secretary also said that aside from military cooperation, he would also pitch for a “more robust” economic relationship between the two countries.

“We recognize not only will greater economic cooperation lead to more prosperity for our peoples and our countries but would also provide a form of economic security and economic resiliency which is very important, especially in today’s world with so many issues taking place in geopolitical turmoil,” he added.

Among the economic interests of the Philippines are agriculture, food security, renewable energy, energy security, investment, infrastructure, critical and emerging technologies, strategic trade and investment cooperation, and supply chains.

Image credits: Screenshot from CSIS Youtube