The incoming administration of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is poised to further elevate the image of the Philippines on the world stage considering various factors. The Philippines is geographically located at a critical point between US-China energy competition. However, it is also important to note that the Philippines remains geopolitically important to both major powers given its ability to shift the power equation between Washington and Beijing. While Manila has often traditionally preferred to balance China’s rise, the potential is vast for the Southeast Asian country to manage energy competition by proactively leveraging its geography. As for the Eastern Hemisphere, the Philippines is positioned in such a way that it guards the route to and from the Western Pacific, which provides great convenience for exiting and entering the South China Sea.
Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr., son and namesake of the late former President Ferdinand Marcos, greets supporters at the Quezon City House of Representatives Wednesday, May 25, 2022, the day Congress declared him president-elect. PHOTO BY JOHN RYAN BALDEMOR
This is the advantage of the Philippines over other Southeast Asian countries. As a result, Manila need not worry too much about losing US or Chinese support in the region. With the latter wishing to strengthen its relations in Southeast Asia and the former wishing to maintain its military presence in the Pacific, neither power wants to risk jeopardizing its relations with the Philippines. Moreover, it also reflects a rational position of maintaining a central position in the power dynamics without falling deeper into competition. This level of proactive autonomy presents a clear policy that both major powers can understand and departs from an ambiguous position. This was emphasized by Marcos on several occasions during the pre-election period. He said the alliance with the United States will remain intact and will be a centerpiece of the Philippines’ external engagements; however, he also said that when it comes to relations with China and its actions in the South China Sea, the Philippines will not put all of its eggs in the American basket.
While critics were quick to take issue, this is actually a rational position that reflects proactive autonomy in two ways. The former illustrates that the Philippines will not want to dig deeper into the power competition between the two powers, as it can use a wide range of diplomatic arrangements in bilateral and multilateral contexts in a way that will not cause the status quo. what. The second points to a clear awareness of objective geopolitics. China is the Philippines’ largest immediate neighbor, and no country can cut off its neighbors despite the challenges they may cause to its national interest. Accordingly, maintaining a positive and flexible relationship with Beijing, without jeopardizing the alliance, will be an important part of its foreign policy. This flexibility will also encompass the South China Sea, where the two countries can further institutionalize frameworks for consultation and cooperation and establish more effective lines for communication and crisis management. On the other hand, Marcos also clarified that he was seeking to strengthen the alliance with the United States by redefining its key elements. This indicates its intention to fill particular gaps in the current agreements in order to strengthen the security of the Philippines. Moreover, he also showed the will to go beyond a buyer-seller and donor-recipient relationship with the United States by highlighting avenues for improvement in defense and economic relations.
Furthermore, as Indo-Pacific construction continues to gain momentum, the importance of the Philippines will also increase given its resilient economy and position. Additionally, by being democratically elected by an overwhelming majority and having a desire to maintain a unifying approach to governance, Marcos can also ensure domestic political stability. Accordingly, this importance was demonstrated by the wave of diplomatic calls and engagements between Marcos and key leaders from North America and Europe to Asia and the Pacific following the May 9 presidential election. Therefore, building on its national attributes, the Philippines under Marcos will continue to proactively diversify and improve relations with key countries beyond Southeast Asia, reflecting their importance on the map. of the world. This will not only improve Manila’s economic, defense and diplomatic status, but also avoid getting entangled in the ongoing power competition.
It can be assumed that Marcos will effectively operationalize the proactive autonomy approach in Philippine foreign policy. However, given the need to strengthen the country’s national attributes to maximize this approach, it will be necessary to ensure that the economic, military and political conditions of the Philippines remain strong and intact.
Don McLain Gill is a Manila-based geopolitical analyst and author of over 100 publications on Indo-Pacific geopolitics and Philippine foreign policy.