2024: A year of living dangerously? | Inquirer Opinion
On The Move

2024: A year of living dangerously?

As we step into the year 2024, the global landscape appears increasingly precarious, marked by a series of geopolitical fault lines that could lead to unintended consequences. The conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza have set powerful forces in motion, creating ripples that extend far beyond their immediate theaters of action. The Red Sea now joins the South China Sea and the Black Sea as turbulent waters, with multiple actors engaging in maneuvers that challenge the capacity of affected governments to monitor and manage the complex interactions.

For the Philippines, a significant area of concern lies in its interactions with Chinese forces in the West Philippine Sea. The actions of the China Coast Guard and militia can only intensify and intimidate without let-up. The Philippines is forced to come up with its responses, some of which have been taken by civil society organizations. The probability of miscalculations is increasing as the stalemate is unbearable to both sides.

Domestic events in China may make it more pugnacious. President Xi Jinping’s candid acknowledgment of economic concerns at the end of 2023 raised eyebrows. Despite official figures indicating 5-percent GDP growth, independent analyses suggest it could be as low as 0-2.5 percent, raising concerns about a major slowdown. The real estate market, a key growth driver, remains in turmoil with plunging prices and developer debt burdens.


Economic challenges, leadership transitions, military restructuring, and shifts in foreign policy have created an intricate web that influences China’s actions on the global stage. Unusually dramatic changes in the top Chinese military hierarchy may signal shifts in China’s behavior in the West Philippine Sea.


As Taiwan’s elections loom, Xi Jinping’s assertive stance on reunification introduces another dimension. With the United States actively positioning forces in support of Taiwan, the Taiwan-China dynamic intertwines with the Philippines’ situation. The potential for China to redirect its assertiveness toward the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea becomes a plausible scenario.

The ongoing standoff at Ayungin Shoal reflects China’s calculated interference with Philippine resupply missions. While direct actions against Filipino troops have been avoided, the Philippines faces challenges in sustaining its presence. The Philippine efforts to repair and rehabilitate the BRP Sierra Madre, a derelict ship housing Filipino troops, is both necessary and urgent but may provoke an escalation of Chinese retaliatory action.

The role of the United States and other sympathetic allies, especially Japan, Australia, and India, is an additional source of uncertainty, creating extravagant expectations of material, military, or diplomatic support to the Philippines.

The domestic dynamics in the Philippines might also be a source of miscalculations. The relief felt by Filipinos about Ferdinand Marcos Jr. not being in the mold of Rodrigo Duterte may have created an atmosphere of complacency. Despite the assurances of public officials, there could be dramatic downturns. There could be a COVID-19 resurgence. The unpredictable nature of the pandemic poses a major risk to economic stability and public health. Perhaps more volatile is the debt situation. Mounting government and corporate debt could trigger a financial meltdown with far-reaching consequences.

The persistent rumors of a coup are not as worrisome as the overconfidence that Philippine officials exude when talking about the gargantuan public debt. In this fluid situation, militant Filipino civil society has begun initiatives in the West Philippine Sea that add to the difficulties of constant coordination with authorities and the risks of miscalculation.

Public discourse in the Philippines reflects diverse perspectives on engaging with China. Some public intellectuals, pundits, and “influentials” advocate for bilateral negotiations as preferred by China, while others argue for the assurance of broadening countervailing alliances. The Philippines finds itself at the intersection of the US-China rivalry, and the range of public intellectual thinking helps confuse the nation’s posture and policy. We must add to this the paradox of local leaders in Cagayan welcoming Chinese business delegations amid the national wariness of Chinese tactics highlights the misalignment of local and national interests.


Taiwan’s claim of Chinese interference in its elections prompts a broader inquiry into China’s motivations and mechanisms in influencing other countries’ political processes. The fear among Filipinos of Chinese interference in the upcoming 2025 midterm and 2028 presidential elections underscores the pervasive impact of geopolitical tensions on domestic concerns.

The Philippines finds itself at a crossroads in a world that seems increasingly perilous. The year ahead may well be one of living dangerously, demanding greater caution and anticipation of the implications of the shifting tides of regional and global geopolitics.


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TAGS: New Year 2024, On The Move

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