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OPINION

'Irreplaceable' Philippines a Key U.S. Ally in Pacific

overseas pacific island nation

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Dr. Lucja Swiatkowski Cannon By Tuesday, 23 April 2024 04:01 PM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

Last week’s trilateral summit at the White House with the prime minister of Japan (Fumio Kishida) and the current president of the Philippines (Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.) and U.S. President Joe Biden, put a spotlight on the emerging defense alliance against China.

Repeated Chinese attacks on Philippine vessels and construction of artificial islands in its territorial waters, due to China claiming the whole of the South China Sea for itself, create a sense of crisis.

But, equally important as a reason, is the Philippines strategic location: south of Taiwan.

The State Department characterized the Philippines as "strategically irreplaceable."

It's critically important to current U.S.-Asia strategy.

President Biden pledged his "iron clad" commitment to its defense.

Additionally, the Biden administration has been courting the Philippines since the election of its new President Ferdinand Marcos Junior in June 2022, this has been characterized as "love-bombing."

President Biden was the first to call Marcos after his election to set relations right after hostilities prevailed under the previous President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.

He turned toward China, lured by repeated promises of investments and Belt and Road infrastructure projects, but suffered continuing attacks on Philippine islands in the South China Sea.

In a short time, Marcos received a stream of visits of U.S. officials: the vice-president, and secretaries of State, Treasury, Defense, and Commerce.

Marcos was invited to the White House twice.

The United States neglected the Philippines for the past 30 years after U.S. troops withdrew in 1992. But in view of Chinese threats toward Philippines and Taiwan, it's ready to shore up its defenses by cooperating closely with these countries, and also with Japan.

The Philippines is the oldest and closest U.S. ally in the region. Its mutual defense treaty with the U.S. was signed in 1951 and a Visiting Forces Agreement in 1999.

In 2022, a new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement was signed and reclaimed four military bases.

This year’s update included five more military bases.

One of them is on the northern tip of the Luzon Island, close to Taiwan; another is on an island chain virtually next to Taiwan. It abuts a key strait through which all ships must pass.

The U.S. government is going to spend over $100 million for infrastructure updates around military bases and will deliver patrol boats, surveillance aircraft, air defense, radar, transport planes, and drones.

There will be joint maritime patrols and joint military exercises.

The trilateral summit indicates that Japan is preparing to become a full-fledged defense partner in the region.

Since World War II, Japan was obligated to maintain only a small self-defense force and concurrently developed a pacifist tradition.

However, in view of current global instability and regional threats to peace, Japan is moving in the direction of increasing military engagement.

It participates in regional military exercises and pledged to increase its defense spending to 2% of GDP like NATO countries.

The United States and Japan are also shoring up Philippines economically.

Last week’s visit brought $100 billion worth of investment commitments.

The Philippines was neglected during the spotlight on doing business with China but now that investors are leaving there, they are attracted to the Philippines, with a population of 110 million friendly to the United States, and many who speak English.

The main foreign businesses are call centers, and also generally business services, as well as microchip components assembly.

The main focus of investment is the Luzon economic corridor.

This will be a part of the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment Accelerator, where the United States, Japan and the Philippines will coordinate their investments in infrastructure, components for semiconductor supply chain; railways, ports, a nickel and cobalt processing plant, clean energy, and agribusiness.

Another direction in this regard is the development of international tourism.

The Philippines is a unique combination of history, tradition, culture, and natural wonders.

It's the only Christian country in Asia with its legacy of traditional Spanish architecture.

Its culture blends native, European, and American influences.

Some of the key battles of World War II took place in Manila, and in the surrounding countryside and waterways.

Its position at the convergence of the Pacific and Indian Oceans creates the richest and most diversified marine life in the world with stunning beaches and limestone cliffs.

Thus, this trilateral summit is a strategic breakthrough for all three participating partners.

For Japan, it signifies an end of legacy of World War II and the assumption of a role of a full-fledged member of the Western defensive alliance.

For the Philippines, it signifies an end of its neglect and impoverished past and the establishment of a rightful place as a fast-growing Asian tiger and a frontline state for Western alliance in Asia.

And for the United States, it signals a completion of the U.S. a-allied defense perimeter around China, which emphasizes its dominance in this strategic area.

Dr. Lucja Swiatkowski Cannon is a senior research fellow at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. She was a strategist, policy adviser and project manager on democratic and economic reforms in Eastern Europe, the Baltics, and Central, South and Southeast Asia for Deloitte & Touche Emerging Markets, Coopers & Lybrand, and others. She has been an adjunct scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Dr. Cannon received a B.A., M.Phil. and Ph.D. from Columbia University where she was an International Fellow and IREX Scholar at Warsaw University, and the London School of Economics. Read more of Swiatkowski Cannon's reports Here.

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DrLucjaSwiatkowskiCannon
The United States neglected Philippines for the past 30 years after U.S. troops withdrew in 1992. But in view of Chinese threats toward Philippines and Taiwan, it's ready to shore up its defenses by cooperating closely with these countries and also with Japan.
marcos, philippines, taiwan
916
2024-01-23
Tuesday, 23 April 2024 04:01 PM
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