‘Geopolitical reality’ facing Marcos in West Philippine Sea

Incoming President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s limited exposure in pre-polls debates and the absence of “foreign policy” initiatives on his official web site are causing uneasiness among international community observers.

Marcos Jr.’s public flip-flopping on the West Philippine Sea (WPS) issue only added to their discomfiture. For instance, in an ambush interview before the May 9 polls, Marcos Jr. said that the International Tribunal Ruling on the WPS is unenforceable as only one state recognized it.

Yet, oddly, on his proclamation day, he suddenly became combative, saying the Philippines will honor the international arbitration ruling and will not surrender 1 millimeter of the nation’s sovereign land to anyone.

But Professor Carlyle Thayer, professor emeritus of the Australian Defense Force University, in a recent virtual international webinar, is worried that Marcos Jr.’s limited exposure in the Senate (in foreign policy) and his “small town” mentality as governor and congressman of Ilocos Norte may create personal blind spots on the WPS issue.

Dr. Horiyasu Akuutsu, professor at Heisei International University, on the other hand, says Japan is worried about the joint China-Russia military exercises, North Korea’s recent aggressive missile launches and China’s aggressiveness in the WPS. Thus, allies and Japan’s “Free and Open Indo Pacific” program are meant to short-circuit China’s Greater BRI Strategy and its “Island Chain Strategy”—aiming to build islands surrounding China for her protection and to deny access to the seas by other nations.

The Philippines and the US have a Mutual Defense Treaty, which says that “an attack on one is an attack on the other.”

But pragmatists, however, had warned that the intense days of the US playing global Robocop to restore order internationally has long gone with ex-president Donald Trump’s “America First” policy. No more warm bodies of American soldiers to export US’s war.

In fact, when President Joe Biden assumed office, one of his first acts was to completely withdraw America’s support and personnel from Afghanistan after spending $3 trillion and committing soldiers there. In the Ukraine-Russia war, aside from the economic sanctions and billions of dollars worth of military supplies in aid, the US has kept its physical distance from the conflict. Lame commitment to democracy?

Other analysts say not to trust “too much” the word of the US, even when it comes to signed mutual defense treaties, because it will have to move in a calibrated way to suit American interests. Marcos Jr. may have to ask the Philippine Congress to review and propose amendments to the dated Mutual Defense Pact with America to ensure the security of the nation from foreign aggressors.

Moreover, one must also realize that the International Court of Justice had diluted America’s intervention powers in the affairs of other nations by its ruling on Nicaragua (1986) and Iran (2003). It ruled that the US had no right to attack the country or fund paramilitary units in Nicaragua against its government and bomb Iran’s oil military platforms. What must Marcos Jr. do?

“If you want peace, you must prepare for war” is the unorthodox sage opinion of Dr. Bhuushan Dewan, president of Shridhar University of India. His thesis is that smaller nations must refuse to be the pawn of superpowers.

The long-term solution is to be able to design and manufacture one’s own military equipment to strengthen one’s defense capabilities without depending on anyone for protection. An example would be for Japan to provide technology and/or financing to the smaller nations like India, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia, and all of the latter become a specialist in producing specific parts of war goods—and develop their capabilities by acquiring know-how and manufacturing technology from more advanced nations.

Independence is the main, nay the only anchor for “free foreign policy” and politics.

That is why even in the Cold War, both the main protagonists Russia and the US were not just thinking of military superiority but economic and cultural edge over the other. Today, China, with its awesome foreign reserves, had exported capital and loans to major regions in the world. It had this “leverage advantage” as the Military and Science Department of the University of Hawaii says.

From faraway Africa to remote places in Latin America, China has extended its financial clout, which will necessarily bear some political weight in its clutches. Even in the Philippines, the next administration must be wary that too much dependence on China for our GDP growth and infrastructure build-up will not be in our best national interest.

For America, on the other hand, to introduce itself as an “economic alternative,” it must be willing to bring its risk capital and investments at the same magnitude and attitudinal enthusiasm as the Chinese.

Incoming President Marcos will be truly “walking a tightrope” in dealing with the US and China.

Recall that America, for a good part, supported Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s “Martial Law” regime and provided political sanctuary for the family in Hawaii during Edsa One under President Ronald Reagan. The Marcos family, however, has pending court cases there. And the Democrats like US President Biden do not look kindly at regimes abetting or protecting violators of human rights—now and in the past.

China had helped outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte with massive loans, vaccines and technical aid in infrastructure building. However, it had clearly violated international law by building islands in disputed territories in the WPS and scaring off our fishermen and depriving them of decent livelihood and fish for the teeming hungry Filipinos. Where would Marcos Jr. position himself between the two?

Maybe, he can take a slew of cues from the history of Cuba, an island country near the United States. During the Cold War, Cuba alternately flirted with both the US and the USSR to survive.

To survive, likewise, the Philippines must learn to similarly play its aces well and deal deftly with both sides. Will President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. be up to the challenge?

Bingo Dejaresco, a former banker, is a financial consultant and media practitioner. He is a Life and Media member of Finex. His views here, however, are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of Finex. Dejarescobingo@yahoo.com. Know more about #FINEXPhils through www.finex.org.ph.


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