Conventional wisdom dictates that when elephants quarrel, it’s best for other animals and humans to get out of the way. But then, there’s also the view, equally valid, that elephants can make good dance partners.
It’s the latter option that appears to be the preferred mode of the Marcos Jr administration as an integral part of its foreign policy.
In his inaugural speech on June 30, Marcos said he would “not preside over any process that will abandon even a square inch of the territory of the Republic of the Philippines to any foreign power.”
And more: “With respect to our place in the community of nations, the Philippines shall continue to be a friend to all. And an enemy to none.”
In his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 27, he reiterated that his administration would pursue a foreign policy of “friends to all, enemy to none.”
He did not mention the country’s tensions with Beijing in the West Philippine Sea and how he intends to assert the ruling of the Permanent Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague favoring the country in so far as maritime rights are concerned.
He did repeat his earlier pronouncement, however, that he will not surrender a square inch of our territory to any foreign power.
He added that his government “will stand firm in our independent foreign policy, with the national interest as our primordial guide. We commit to maintaining good relations with the rest of the world…We will be a good neighbor — always looking for ways to collaborate and cooperate with the end goal of mutually beneficial outcomes. If we agree, we will cooperate and we will work together. If we differ, let us talk some more until we develop consensus.”
In his debut on the world stage, Marcos told the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) that disputes should only be resolved through peaceful means, citing the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea: “By reinforcing the predictability and stability of international law, particularly the 1982 UNCLOS, we provided an example of how states should resolve their differences: through reason and through right.”
As part of his working visit to the US, Marcos Jr. also met with President Joe Biden, and told him: “We are your partners, we are your allies, we are your friends. And in like fashion, we have always considered the United States our partner, our ally and our friend.”
Marcos assured Biden that Manila would remain Washington’s ally in “maintaining the peace in Asia,” as they discussed the situation in the South China Sea and “underscored their support for freedom of navigation and overflight, and the peaceful resolution of disputes” in the region.
For his part, Biden said the US-Philippine relations has “very deep roots,” although admitting that the two countries had “rocky times,” but reaffirmed the United States’ “iron clad commitment to the defense of the Philippines.”
Ample proof that the Marcos administration is likely to take a pragmatic approach to foreign policy, particularly in relations with the US and China, is the recent visit to Washington DC of Sen. Imee Marcos, chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
The lawmaker affirmed the strong alliance between the Philippines and the US.
She said, however, this alliance should continue but at the same time, the Philippines should also expand engagement with China through confidence-building measures, joint development, and finalizing a code of conduct in the South China Sea.
Marcos said the Philippines and its Southeast Asian neighbors are calling for a “rational approach” in relations with the US and China to prevent a repeat of the tense situation during the Cold War.
According to her, the Marcos administration seeks to “re-examine” rather than revise the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty, Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and to call for increased military assistance and support for local defense contractors.
In the end, the message she delivered to Washington was this: “Do not make us choose between the United States and China.”
In other words, what Manila wants is that our relations with the two superpowers should not be a zero-sum game where one side gains and the other loses.
We should strive for balanced relations with each of them based on mutual respect and mutual benefit, but paramount should be our national interests.
We can accelerate negotiations with China on major projects, such as joint development of oil and gas in the South China Sea and seek funding for three major railway projects, apart from continuing economic cooperation initiatives.
By the same token, we should also negotiate with Washington for expanded trade and investments, and seek their assistance in our efforts to modernize our military to achieve a credible defense posture.
That’s not, as one defense analyst said recently, a case of Manila playing a “dangerous game” of footsies with two superpowers, but a pragmatic solution to the intensifying tension between the US and China in this part of the Pacific. (Email: [email protected])