from passivity to active participation

Cross-strait issues first became a concern in the Philippine-US alliance in March 1996, when China fired several unarmed ballistic missiles that landed not far from the coast of Taiwan. The United States deployed two carrier battle groups near Taiwan to show Beijing that aggression towards Taipei would not be tolerated. Following the incident, Washington saw a need to improve its security ties with Manila – the United States hoped that this would increase American access to air and naval infrastructure in Luzon and allow their resettlement – ​​in one case by the US military. crisis in Northeast Asia to facilitate the rapid deployment of

From 1996 to 1998, the two allies negotiated and signed the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), deemed necessary for a revival of the alliance following the withdrawal of US forces from the Philippines in late 1992. Eventually, concerns over stability in the Taiwan Strait were one of the rationales behind the negotiation and signing of the VFA in the late 1990s as the two allies focused on the war on terror and China’s maritime expansion into the West Philippine Sea. Did. However, cross-strait tensions in the coalition would re-emerge during the last few months of the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte.

Ukraine-Russia War and Tension in the Taiwan Strait

On March 10, 2022, weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Philippine ambassador to Washington, Jose Manuel Romualdez, announced that Duterte was willing to open the country’s military facilities to the US military if Russia’s actions against Ukraine were to be rejected. The battle intensified and became entrenched. United States of america. In an online briefing with reporters based in Manila, Romualdez revealed that “the president said that if he [the United States] Asking for the support of the Philippines, it is clear that, of course, if push comes to shove, the Philippines would be willing to be part of the effort, especially if this Ukrainian crisis spills over into the Asian region. He specifically said that the president indicated that in the event of an emergency, “the Philippines would allow US forces to return to the former naval station in Subic Bay and nearby Clark Air Base.”

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The proposal was seen as an attempt to reorganize the coalition before Duterte’s term in office expires in June 2022. More importantly, it also revealed an underlying fear among many Southeast Asian states that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would encourage China to follow suit in the Taiwan Strait. Collateral damage is likely throughout the South and East China Seas and the wider region. Southeast Asian countries felt that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had specific implications for them, given the Sino-Russian approach of challenging the US-led rules-based international order. Furthermore, there is the possibility that Beijing could take a page out of Russia’s playbook on implementing gray zone operations, conducting hybrid warfare, and using force to acquire and eventually annex disputed territories.

Accordingly, the Duterte administration expressed willingness to allow US forces to use the Philippines as a staging ground in the Taiwan contingency. However, there were some indications that Manila and Washington had discussed the possibility during the Duterte administration before President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. takes office in June 2022.

from passivity to active participation

On February 2, 2023, Philippine and US defense officials announced that the US military will be given new access to four Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) bases across the country. The move effectively solidified the two allies’ efforts to expand the US strategic footprint in Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific in the face of an aggressive and expansionist China. The new access agreement, negotiated by the two countries during US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s second visit to the Philippines, increased the number of bases from five to nine. As agreed in the 2014 Philippine-US Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), the United States can use these bases for training, setting up equipment, and building runways and other facilities.

Under the agreement, the Philippines allowed a large number of US troops to remain in the country on a rotational basis within AFP military camps. Inside those camps, US forces planned to build warehouses, living quarters, joint facilities and stored munitions – except for nuclear weapons, which are prohibited by the Philippine constitution. However, there was only limited construction of EDCA sites during Duterte’s six-year term. Nevertheless, the United States has allocated more than $82 million for infrastructure investment at the original five EDCA sites. These investments supported economic development and job creation in local communities. The decision to increase the number of joint locations came in October 2022, when the United States sought to deploy its forces and weapons to an additional five Philippine military bases, mainly in the central northern Luzon region, which is located along the 160-mile Luzon Strait. Is. Separates it from the self-governing island of Taiwan.

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The development sees US and Filipino forces expanding joint combat and disaster response training in preparation for future contingency operations in the South China Sea, which lies west of the Philippines, and the Taiwan Strait, north of the country’s Luzon region. happened with In 2022, the newly formed 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment (MLR) deployed several battle concepts with the Philippine Marine Corps Coastal Defense Regiment in the provinces on the Luzon Strait. By preinstalling MLR equipment at joint positions in northeastern Luzon, US Marines can respond more quickly to crises on Taiwan or assist in US military power projection into the Luzon Strait and the South China Sea. Specifically, these EDCA sites can provide the following benefits to the US military:

  1. Increase training. The EDCA sites will allow the US Air Force and US Marine Corps Aviation to deploy US-based strategic air formations to Southeast Asia to gain experience in foreign combat environments.
  2. Serve as forward facilities for US Navy and US Marine Corps ships. EDCA sites can be used as forward facilities for US Navy and US Marine Corps ship logistics and repair/maintenance needs.
  3. Provide launching pad for combat operations. If armed conflicts occur in the South China Sea or Taiwan, EDCA sites would allow the US military to rapidly deploy its forces to the region.

As the US military seeks to distribute its forward-deployed forces (through access arrangements and joint military exercises with their Southeast Asian counterparts) along the first island chain stretching from Japan to Maritime Southeast Asia, the Philippines’ landfall for Washington Political importance increases.

face the inevitable

The Philippines adopts a strict and legal One-China policy with regard to Taiwan’s diplomatic status as a self-governing island. However, the new Marcos administration found it necessary to improve the Philippines’ security ties with the United States as it openly expressed the need to cooperate with Washington in a possible strategic need in its closest neighbor, Taiwan. Manila is aware that if an armed conflict between Beijing and Taipei erupts and escalates over the Taiwan Straits, there is little chance that the country will face a massive refugee flow, Filipino foreign workers based in Taiwan. would avoid the adverse consequences of a rapid withdrawal, and the actual spread of the conflict to the Luzon Strait and even to northern Luzon. Romualdez, now Marcos’ ambassador to the United States, acknowledged that the Philippines would cooperate militarily with the United States to prevent any escalation of tensions between China and Taiwan—not only because of the treaty alliance but To help prevent a major conflict. In addition, he said that the Philippines would let the US military use its military bases in the event of a Taiwan conflict, “if it is important to us, to our security.”

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Marcos Jr. has not explicitly stated that his country would assist the United States in any armed contingency in Taiwan. This stemmed from his concern that a conflict between the United States and China over Taiwan would drag the Philippines into a larger armed conflict. In an interview, he said, “I learned an African proverb: When elephants fight, the one who loses is the grass. We are the grass in this situation. We don’t want to be trampled. Nevertheless, speeding up the implementation of the EDCA, His decision to increase the number of joint positions from five to nine and to resume joint Philippine Navy-US Navy patrols in the South China Sea reflects his changing thinking on the matter. would aid any US effort to deter Chinese aggression, he said in a more recent interview: “When we look at the situation in the region, especially the tensions in the Taiwan Strait, we can see that only the geopolitical Should the situation, in fact, be a conflict in that region… it is very hard to imagine a scenario where the Philippines would not be involved in some way.

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