When it comes to the Philippines-U.S. relationship, the past six months has felt like years – so much seems to be changing. Soon after Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. was sworn in as the Philippines’ president in 2022, he initiated a major course correction from the poor state of relations under the previous President Rodrigo Duterte. But under the new circumstances of deteriorating China-U.S. ties over Taiwan, the alliance may be taking too many risks. The United States and the Philippines might benefit from a more bounded approach, with a tight focus on the South China Sea, while staying as far away as possible from the Taiwan tangle.
The shift in Marcos’ approach to the 72-year old alliance has been both substantive and substantial. He made the first presidential visit to the United States since the Aquino era, and a 2+2 meeting between foreign and defense ministers of both countries announced an upgrade in ties. Military exercises have been ramped up, with the signature Balikatan exercise this year as the largest in its history.
New life has also been breathed into the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), with the United States gaining four more “Agreed Locations” (which are, for all practical purposes, U.S. bases located within existing Philippine military areas) for pre-positioning materiel and rotating troops. The Marcos administration has also begun to publicize assertive Chinese behavior in the region much more than Duterte did. Most tellingly, talks are ongoing on conducting joint naval patrols with the United States in the South China Sea, which could include other U.S. partners.
At the same time, Marcos has not ignored China. He signed multiple agreements during a state visit to China in early 2023. Under Marcos, Philippines also ratified the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) capping a domestic debate. RCEP is the world’s largest trade agreement. Although it is ASEAN-led, China is its largest member state. This reflects the reality that China (including Hong Kong) represents Philippines’ largest trade partnership by far.
Read the full piece in The Diplomat.