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PH foreign policy needs a reboot

/ 04:03 AM June 21, 2021

Philippine foreign policy urgently requires a strategic reboot in response to the country’s changing external realities. The adversarial competition between the world’s core of imperialist great powers continues to roil and affect the global strategic environment. As an archipelagic state with a markedly weak power index ranking among its immediate Southeast Asian neighbors, the Philippines is exceedingly vulnerable to clear and present dangers via open maritime corridors.

In this emergent conjuncture, the pressing dynamics of objective international conditions will force a sharp outcome to the overall development of the Philippines in the coming years. Thus, we already see mounting discord among the country’s political elites questioning the future direction of Manila’s external relations.

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As the 2022 national elections near, potential candidates are beginning to speak out on Philippine external policy issues and concerns. In particular, these politicians — from various “trapo” factions — loudly argue for a merely “either-or” foreign policy proposition. As such, they only expose their narrowly focused, reactionary, and non-strategic mindsets. Yet, this is precisely what the next Malacañang regime will have to shun if the Philippines is to chart a genuinely independent and progressive foreign policy course in the decades ahead.

Certainly, an intensifying geostrategic competition has mutually been imposed by the United States and China upon the maritime domain of the Southeast Asian Sea. In this setting, the Philippines is caught in a strategic dilemma and is seemingly forced to choose between American imperialism or Chinese social imperialism. This is what both Washington and Beijing intend to attain—for Manila to closely align itself with either power’s own sphere of influence.

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The succeeding administration, plus the broader people-based foreign policy community, must critically work together to reframe and redirect the principled aims and purposes of the Philippines on the world stage. Accordingly, the country needs to obtain a more secure external space for itself to warrant a sustainably progressive socioeconomic development agenda for its people. Simultaneously, the Philippines has to more closely engage the world’s semi-peripheral and peripheral states along internationalist lines of solidarity, non-alignment, amity, and common security. The consequent foreign policy team should firmly recraft Manila’s external role within the regional strategic environment, by positioning the country as an “Asian pole of solidarity and cooperation”—and not as an imperialist puppet-state.

Toward this approach, Philippine foreign policymakers and planners will have to sharply act on certain strategic realities. These outside influences, impinging upon the country’s potential to pursue a truly independent foreign relations path, need to be decided upon swiftly. The following factors directly constrain and challenge the country today: a) America’s military forces remain a “global occupation force with consent” as it fortifies its presence within the vast realms of the Asia-Indo-Pacific, including in the Philippines; b) China’s bellicose expansionism is a defensive strategy to build its own strategic depth to counter growing US militarist aggression; c) US imperialism openly and belligerently identifies the China-Russia alliance as America’s top global two-front adversary; d) the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ lingering anti-democratic credentials, as a regional club of autocrats and dictators, underpins its divisive vulnerabilities; and e) many of the world’s progressive non-state forces have now become critical players in the arena of international relations and world affairs.

Any strategic change in Philippine foreign policy clearly demands the immediate abrogation of all defense-based treaties and agreements between Manila and Washington. Equally, a de-escalation of Beijing’s regional belligerence must be settled multilaterally. Manila should also decisively pursue a resolutely internationalist external relations track—inside and beyond the Asean—to broadly carve out a progressive democratic space across Asia. And always, Manila must foster common security norms to better advance global peace and cooperation.

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Rasti Delizo is an international affairs analyst and an activist in the socialist movement.

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