Playing with the big boys | Inquirer Opinion
Commentary

Playing with the big boys

/ 05:04 AM January 19, 2023

In my article, “Ukraine war’s impact on PH security interests” (1/6/23), I noted that the outcome of the war in that country will have a significant effect on the security environment in the Indo-Pacific, in the sense that if Russia’s military capability is severely degraded and an expanded Nato can effectively maintain stability in Europe, this will allow the US to shift its focus and resources to the Indo-Pacific region.

This is significant because, as in Europe, the security architecture in the Indo-Pacific is built on US military power. Whether we like it or not, the Americans and their military forces play a vital role in ensuring stability and security in the Indo-Pacific region. It is this stable environment that has enabled many countries in the region to thrive and grow in the past few decades, making it the most economically dynamic and prosperous area in the world today. It is also this environment that has enabled China to rise into a credible rival to US dominance and influence not just in the region, but on the global stage as well.

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China’s rise as an economic powerhouse has been beneficial to the countries in the region. Its vast market and manufacturing capability have made it into a top trading and commercial partner of its neighbors, a partnership that has helped contribute to the growth of the economies as well, including the Philippines.

On the other hand, its rise as a military power on an almost equal footing with the US poses various challenges to our country and the other countries in the region because, unlike the Americans who are an ocean away, China is right in the middle of the region and shares borders with several countries. Furthermore, unlike the Americans, China has territorial disputes with a number of its neighbors both on land and in the maritime domain. If left unchecked, China will be able to act in accordance with its interests without regard for the interests of others. In fact, it has already flexed its muscles on a number of occasions. Our issues with China in the West Philippine Sea and its creation of artificial islands in disputed areas of the South China Sea is an example of such actions.

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Therefore, it is in the interest of the Philippines that the Americans continue to be effectively engaged in the region. In view of the massive disparity in national power between China and most countries in the region, US presence and involvement are crucial to balance China’s growing influence and freedom of action that could be detrimental to our national and security interests.

However, this state of affairs should never be viewed through the simple lens of choosing a side between the two big boys in the neighborhood. Our country has come a long way, and despite prevailing issues that need to be addressed, we are no longer a Third World, developing country. We’ve achieved lower middle-income country status, and getting into the higher middle-income category is a possibility. We should be proud of this and act accordingly on the global stage via our independent foreign policy because, at this stage of our development, our national economic and security interests are paramount.

We need to be able to chart our own way. The growing rivalry between China and the US will only further make this task difficult and challenging because they will always apply pressure and leverage on the other countries in the region to take sides with one or the other. While it is easy and much simpler to just simply align with one of the big players, the problem with that is that the interests of the dominant partner in that arrangement will always prevail over our own. We have to start playing with the big boys, always keeping in mind the primary objective of advancing and pursuing our interests.

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Moira G. Gallaga served three Philippine presidents as presidential protocol officer, and was posted as a diplomat at the Philippine consulate general in Los Angeles and the Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC.

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