In his marching orders to the newly appointed Ambassadors Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary during their meeting last Thursday in Malacañang, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. urged the envoys “to be very, very conscientious about finding opportunities for the Philippines” by strengthening partnerships with other countries and to bring in foreign investments that would help the Philippine economy.
This directive emphasizes an urgency to go beyond the traditional duties of foreign relations and puts more focus on economic diplomacy to boost our country’s economic recovery thru trade, foreign direct investments, bilateral and multilateral trade agreements, and developmental collaborations while tackling ongoing geopolitical challenges.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a global emergency that mobilized an unprecedented level of international cooperation to confront a global existential threat.
All countries regardless of economic level or political ideology were forced to go beyond conflicting interests to fight the deadly virus as a united community of nations.
After more than two years, the world survived and has learned to live with COVID-19 and its milder variants that will hopefully become an endemic virus like the common cold.
However, recovering from the economic scars from the pandemic crisis is becoming more difficult because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which has radiated a chain of economic shock waves across the globe, again showing how unavoidably connected the world has become.
In the Indo-Pacific region, experts are warning of peace and stability being undermined by traditional and non-traditional threats with China’s continuing gray zone operations such as the persistent swarming of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea, compounded by environmental degradation and transnational crimes.
In this scenario where the Philippines is in the middle of strategic competition between powerful states, bolstering alliances with like-minded states to uphold a rules-based international order is the peaceful course to preserve the security of the critical maritime corridors of the region, especially during these times of economic stresses sparked by the Ukraine war.
Fortunately, we do have powerful allies ready to stand with us amidst the maritime security challenges confronting the Indo-Pacific.
In a statement during the recent Pilipinas Conference 2022, Mr. Richard Sisson, Acting Ambassador of the Australian Embassy in the Philippines, reaffirmed Australia’s commitment to abide by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and “will continue to exercise freedom of navigation and overflight, and to support the rights of others to do the same, and strengthen relationships with regional partners.”
The 6th Philippines-Australia Strategic Dialogue will further sustain maritime cooperation activities, such as capacity building, training, logistics support, and joint exercises.
In the Australia-United States Ministerial Consultation last week, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that the US-Australia alliance is vital to regional security and are stepping up its cooperation to support a rules-based international order.
During her recent visit to the Philippines, US Vice President Kamala Harris launched several initiatives among them are the allocation of US$ 82 million for the implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, US$ 7.5 million in additional assistance to enhance the capabilities of Philippine maritime law enforcement agencies, and support for the Philippine Coast Guard in upgrading and expanding its vessel traffic management system to enable improved maritime safety and environmental monitoring.
MaryKay Carlson, Ambassador of the US Embassy in the Philippines, during the Pilipinas Conference stated that a rules-based international order is the heart of US foreign policy priorities and the foundation of its bilateral alliance and partnership with the Philippines and reiterated that the US values the Philippines as its friend, partner, and ally in championing the rules and principles that help every nation to thrive and prosper, regardless of their size or power.
Amb. Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez, Philippine Ambassador to the US, noted that diplomatic relations between the two countries have been further strengthened by the Visiting Forces Agreement and the EDCA and sees more opportunities to explore new areas of cooperation that will boost the alliance and solidify their positions relative to the Indo-Pacific.
The Philippines also has many friends in the European community who are seeing encouraging developments in policies that attract more investments.
Ambassador of the European Union to the Philippines Luc Véron underscored the importance of collaboration among states and how open, rules-based trade and investment will create jobs and push economic growth towards a sustainable economic recovery for future generations.
These powerful commitments of support from Australia, the United States, and the European Union, all very powerful allies, are indeed most encouraging amidst these unstable times of simultaneous and interlinked crises of the pandemic, the environment, the Ukraine war, and the volatile global economy.
I hope the President will further strengthen this position as he continues his tour of foreign visits to the ASEAN-EU Commemorative Summit in Brussels, and more interesting, his visit to China in January.