New Delhi, Aug 8: With Chinese extensive military deployment around Taiwan rattling the region, the Philippines is eager to strengthen defence cooperation with the US. The US, which already has troops in bases on Filipino territory, has assured the south-east Asian nation of protection in case of an armed attack.
In the Philippines on Saturday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the Philippines is an ‘irreplaceable ally’ while the Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. reflecting on the Taiwan Strait tensions said: ‘…the visit of your House Speaker Nancy Pelosi coming here… I did not think it raised the intensity; it just demonstrated how the intensity of the conflict has been…’.
China’s aggressive posturing towards Taiwan, in the wake of US Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei, has shaken up the region. Countries in south-east Asia are worried as Beijing has territorial conflicts with many in the South China Sea (SCS).
In Blinken’s visit, the highest-ranking US official to visit Manila after Ferdinand Marcos Jr became President this June, the two nations reaffirmed their decades-old defence alliance. They are governed by the Mutual Defence Treaty (MDT)–an agreement signed on 30 August 1951 that states that if either of the allies faces an armed attack, the other would come to its defence.
Emphasising that the US would defend its allies in south-east Asia, Blinken told journalists: ‘An armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, and aircraft will invoke US mutual defense commitments under that treaty. The Philippines is an irreplaceable friend, partner, and ally to the United States.’
US and the Philippines relations had come under strain under previous President Rodrigo Duterte, who was opposed to the continued presence of US troops on Filipino soil. Duterte had tried to move closer to China at the cost of bilateral relations with the US. That scenario changed as Beijing began to assert itself in the region.
Duterte even watered down the historic arbitration case that the Philippines had won against Beijing over islands in the disputed SCS that belonged to Manila rather than Beijing. During his rule he also decided to unilaterally end the US-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement that allowed for the deployment and rotation of American soldiers on bases in the country.
For almost a hundred years, the country has fallen back on the US for its security and defence needs. To that extent, Ferdinand Marcos Jr has restored the nation’s foreign policy to what it had been for a long time–go back to the US.
The new president seems keen to restore ties with the US not just in the fields of defence but also in areas of technology and health cooperation.
With China unleashing live-fire drills with a vengeance and a blockade of Taiwan, the public mood in the Philippines which has largely always been positive towards the US is now beginning to swing further to the US. For President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. it will be a tight rope walk – doing the balancing act between two warring powers.
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