Balancing PH-US-China Relations Amid Intensifying Geo-Political Risks And ‘Aid Programs’
THERE are now “live wires” that can ignite anytime and produce a conflagration in the Indo-Pacific region that may be beyond the destruction wrought by World War 2. Indeed, it is quite ironic that despite the term “Pacific,” the area is now the hotbed of geo-political tug-of-war. The US keeps on pressuring the Philippines not to buy affordable wheat, oil, natural gas, fertilizers, etc. from Russia while, at the same time, selling expensive arms and ammunition to Taiwan, in violation of the US “One China” policy. Naturally, this angers China. The US, it seems, will never stop antagonizing the dragon, China, hoping the latter will start a new war in the Indo-Pacific, most probably in Taiwan, similar to what the US did in poking the eye of the Russian bear in Ukraine. The US’ action ultimately made the bear attack and wreak military havoc on Ukraine and economic havoc on the rest of the Western world — due mainly to the economic sanctions imposed by the US and its allies on Russia which backfired and is causing immense hardships for hundreds of millions of people, including Americans.
The Philippine Constitution says, “The State shall pursue an independent foreign policy. In its relations with other states the paramount consideration shall be national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest, and the right to self-determination.” It is therefore mandated upon all presidents and government officials of the Philippines to balance its foreign policy so that it will be independent of any foreign influence.
Maintaining an independent foreign policy
How can this be put into practical terms? If our Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) claims to “protests any act by foreign entities that threaten and undermine the country’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and legitimate maritime entitlements,” then any country that has any of its ships, fishing boats, planes, submarines, etc. enter Philippine areas without our permission should receive the necessary diplomatic protests equally. The areas over which the Philippines has sovereignty include those within the 1898 Treaty of Paris between Spain and the US, and areas over which the Philippines has sovereign rights as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), and other UN documents.
During the past administrations, whenever it was the Philippines’ “allies,” like the United States and Vietnam, which were found to be violating the Philippines’ sovereignty or national interest, the country was hesitant in filing any diplomatic protest.
The Philippines under then-Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. itself had stated that it filed over 300 protests against unprovoked Chinese illegal activities in the West Philippine Sea. In the same vein, the DFA had filed merely six protests on illegal activities by Vietnam in the Philippines’ legitimate maritime zones, even though Vietnam occupies far more areas and continues to expand on her reclamations in the South China Sea and then-Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that the most frequent poachers in Philippine waters are the Vietnamese.
The DFA did not mention any diplomatic protest against the US, despite reported violations by the US including, but not limited to, the open support of the US to the then rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has received lethal Barrett rifles from the US and were used to annihilate the so-called “SAF 44.” In fact, in violation of diplomatic protocols, then-US Ambassador Kristie Kenney visited the rebel MILF headquarters on Feb. 19, 2008. Kenney reportedly huddled “briefly” with key members of the MILF central committee, but told reporters that her coming to Camp Darapanan, then the MILF’s central headquarters, was just a mere “private visit.” How can an “ally’s” ambassador have a public one and a private personality?
Media news reports on the latest French Court ordering Malaysia to pay the Sultanate’s heirs $15 billion should also remind their readers of the repeated betrayals of the US and the UK on our Sabah claims. Indeed, if you have an “ally” like this, you no longer need any enemy. But still, the DFAs of the past did not file any diplomatic protest regarding these very serious matters.
The real face of America’s aid
Meanwhile, the US has been utilizing the “soft approach” through its so-called strategy of low-intensity conflict or subtle manipulation, using the Millennium Challenge Corp. (MCC) in trying to win the hearts and minds of countries such as the Philippines.
The MCC has entered into 37 grant agreements with 29 countries from 2004 to 2019, originally envisioned at $5 billion annually, but the US Congress has appropriated just a paltry $900 million annually starting in 2011, which has caused increased resistance and abandonment by recipient countries, according to the report issued by America’s very own Congressional Research Service. Recipient countries have also complained about the MCC’s political interference.
In 2016, Tanzanian critics slammed the MCC for interfering in the local presidential election. A classic CIA operation, the MCC announced it would suspend its partnership with Tanzania amid deteriorated relations, which Tanzania’s then-President John Magufuli regarded as an opportunity to get rid of its US donor dependence — a good riddance. In the same year, when the US delayed MCC aid programs for the Philippines under the pretext of “human rights.” Then President Rodrigo Duterte responded that the Philippines won’t bow to conditions imposed by the US to receive aid and even ordered the end of taking second-hand US military equipment. President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is expected to continue the stance of the Duterte administration.
In 2017, MCC marked two strategically important South Asian countries: Nepal and Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government turned down the offer on the basis that the “MCC is an instrument of neo-imperialism pursuing economic hegemony over poorer countries.” Then, Nepal thus became the target of this US strategy, but Nepal has been balancing its relations with the US, China and India ever since.
Smaller, developing countries facing the challenges of economic recovery post-pandemic will now also have to prepare and navigate a world with intensifying, and more hostile, geopolitical rivalries. There are now models of success, and failures, for those willing to learn and adopt.
Dr. Mario Ferdinand Pasion is director of Phil-BRICS Strategic Studies and the chairman of Nationalist Filipinos Against Foreign Intervention.
A similar version was published in Manila Times on July 24 2022. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks. (firstname.lastname@example.org)