Dindo Manhit, President of the Stratbase ADR Institute
Four major powers — the United States, Japan, India and Australia — are sending a message to the Philippines regarding a pushback against China’s increasingly pervasive influence and assertiveness in the region. They are saying that the Philippines has other foreign policy choices other than appeasing an expansion power or getting on its bandwagon.
This is according to a recent study titled “Revival of the QUAD and the Emergence of the Indo-Pacific Region as the 21st Century Geopolitical Region” by Dr. Renato C. De Castro, a trustee of the think tank Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute (ADRi) for Strategic and International Studies and a full professor of international studies at De La Salle University-Manila.
De Castro explained that the recent use of the term “Indo-Pacific region” in policy circles is related to the formation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or QUAD) in 2007, which brought the four powers together in a loose security association.
Among the developments that led to the revival of the QUAD in 2017 are China’s maritime expansion, the US strategic rebalancing to Asia, and the “One Belt, One Road” initiative. It is worth noting that all the countries represented in the QUAD share interests in maritime security that extend from East Asia to the Indian Ocean.
For the Philippines, the study offers valuable insights on the effects of the “policy of appeasement” on its long-term strategic and economic interests as an archipelagic state, as well as the overall security of the Indo-Pacific region.
Recently, the Philippines and Vietnam reacted differently to China’s reported installation of missiles in the South China Sea.
Malacañang expressed concern about the reported missile deployment in the contested areas in the South China Sea, but remained confident that the Philippines’ renewed relationship with China ensures that those missiles will “not be directed at us.”
Vietnam had a stronger but still diplomatic response. In a report published by VN Express, Vietnam asked that China, “as a major regional and global power, show responsibility in the maintenance of peace and stability in the East Sea, stop militarization, and withdraw military equipment illegally deployed on structures under Vietnam’s sovereignty.”
The QUAD study warned that by appeasing an expansionist power like China, the Duterte administration is becoming complicit in China’s long-term strategy to push the United States out of East Asia as China builds a maritime great wall in the South and East China seas.
According to the study, the revival of the QUAD and the formation of the Indo-Pacific as a geopolitical region has three major implications on Philippine foreign policy.
The first is the possible erosion of Asean’s centrality in regional security architecture. The revival of the QUAD and the expansion of the geopolitical competition between its members and China will exert tremendous pressure on Asean members and divide them between those who will support China and those who will side with the QUAD.
The second is that these can also diminish the Philippines’ tendency to tilt closer to China. Three members of the QUAD—Japan, the United States, and Australia—have close economic and security relations with the Philippines. They are “silently but warily” observing the Duterte administration’s efforts to appease China. They can apply diplomatic, strategic, and economic influence on the Philippines to ensure a regional balance of power and interests.
Finally, these can be viable tools for a renewed equi-balancing gambit. The QUAD can provide the Philippines with viable means to adopt a policy based on equi-balancing China with the other major powers in the region. A minor power fosters its diplomatic linkages and economic activities with two or more competing major powers to a level where it is able to influence the major powers’ policies yet insulate itself from undue external influence.
In a world where “might is right,” the revitalization of the QUAD shows the Philippines that there is strength in numbers in order to survive in a rapidly changing and challenging Indo-Pacific region.