The high-level meetings recently between President Marcos Jr., US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III and Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez, Jr. demonstrate the strong ties of the two nations that share a deep history of alliance strengthened by the enduring economic, cultural, and direct relationships between its peoples.
But the context of the Austin visit is linked to the evolving geopolitical situation pertaining to the continuing expansion of China’s military footprint in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, tension with Taiwan, and continuing violations of Philippine sovereignty and territorial rights in the West Philippine Sea.
The timely forum of geopolitical experts hosted by the Stratbase ADR Institute provides in-depth analyses on the dynamics and anticipated scenarios in the Indo-Pacific and insights on how the Philippines should position and prepare in the event, God forbid, a military clash should break out.
Mr. Richard McGregor, a Senior Fellow for East Asia of the Lowy Institute of Australia, explained how Chines President Xi Jinping has firmly established a one-man rule and was able to eliminate term limits so he can lead for life.
The top leadership of the Politburo, the top decision making and controlling institution of the Chinese government, are all loyal to Xi.
McGregor showed an animated graphic on how fast China has expanded its foreign trade and become dominant across continents since joining the World Trade Organization in December 2001.
Experts predict China’s rise as an economic power will eventually be as big as America and will be the US strongest competitor not only in this region but globally.
He pointed out how the economic success of China has enabled it to aggressively assert its expansionist ambitions and has built its military capacities to a level that can be used as “a sort of arm in their diplomatic toolkit” as more focus and preparations are aimed at its priorities: Taiwan, the South China Sea including the West Philippine Sea.
McGregor commented on the double-talking of Xi Jinping, citing how the Chinese President used words such as open border, win-win cooperation, integration, during speeches in the World Economic Forum at Davos which is completely different from his internal messaging in China.
He said, “The internal focus of China is getting the lead in technology so it can do to America what it thinks America is doing to it. So, it’s about using your power.” This is about using China’s economy and technology as an “instrument of power.”
On the probability of war between the US and China and how it will impact US allies, Japan, South Korea, Australia and the Philippines, his thinking is though the Chinese military are planning, preparing resources, and training for it, “they don’t want to invade Taiwan and nor does the Chinese leadership.”
He feels a more likely scenario is a blockade of Taiwan with China simply declaring the island as part of the China Custom Zone and will control anything going in or out. This will immediately affect the Philippines.
Rear Admiral Rommel Jude Ong (Ret.), Professor of Praxis of the Ateneo School of Government and Trustee of the Foundation for National Interest, spoke on how the Philippines should have a maritime defense strategy being a “strategic real estate” (sic) in the middle of Indo-Pacific tensions.
He cited the importance of alliance partnership management with the US, Japan, Australia, and the EU states particularly France.
He recommends establishing “supply chain defense strategic cooperation” with countries like India and South Korea.
Like the US strategy in the Pacific, the Philippines should have its own hub and spoke system of partnerships built around national interests.
Furthermore, he emphasized the need to enhance the counterintelligence posture to counter influence operations by China, break down institutional blocks preventing cooperation and synergy of Philippine agencies, establish a robust military supply chain and domestic defense, and channel friendly foreign direct investments to vulnerable LGUs particular in the Northern regions.
Mr. Richard Heydarian, Non-Resident Fellow of Stratbase ADR Institute and
Senior Lecturer at the University of the Philippines – Asian Center maintains that as allies of the US, the Philippines cannot be neutral in this ongoing “game of deterrence” where no one wants a war.
That in building deterrence capabilities, the more unlikely that there will be war.
He said the focus should be on intelligence and security with the help of our allies the US, Australia, Japan, and France. and from them, we can learn “how to make sure that we can protect the integrity without undermining our democratic institution.”
Experts are seeing a more unstable maritime situation in Asia.
As the Philippines is at the strategic center of this Indo-Pacific game of deterrence, our play should be to engage our allies in joint maritime patrols and to quickly build the defense capabilities of our Navy and Coast Guard.