Pursuing an independent PH foreign policy

Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute

The administration of President Marcos Jr. has anchored its pursuit of an independent Philippine foreign policy on the maxim “friend to all, enemy to none,” carrying out a strategic balancing act in the conduct of its international affairs. First announced in his first State of the Nation Address, this has consistently been reiterated in his various engagements.

Engaging this strategy allows the Philippines to maximize its relations with like-minded states such as Australia, Japan, and India, and with the world’s major powers, particularly China and the United States. It enables the Philippines to position itself as a substantial partner to both existing and new partners in the Indo-Pacific.

Mr. Marcos has embarked on a series of international visits to Indonesia, Singapore, and the United States to advance the country’s foreign policy agenda.

Upon the invitation of President Joko Widodo, Mr. Marcos visited Indonesia, where they signed a number of agreements on economy, culture, defense, and security. The two leaders emphasized the importance of strengthening bilateral and regional cooperation, which is evidenced by $8.48-billion worth of investments.

Following this, the President went to Singapore, where he separately met with Singapore President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. They signed bilateral agreements on information and communications technology, health care, defense, and public utilities, and also secured $6.54 billion in investments.

In a joint statement, the two countries reiterated Asean’s position on the South China Sea and emphasized the importance of security and stability, freedom of navigation and overflight, and the peaceful resolution of disputes.

These visits confirm the Philippines’ good relationship with its Asian neighbors, and is particularly significant in the face of growing geopolitical challenges and evolving security threats in the region.

This strategic balancing act was further demonstrated in his visit to the United States, where he met with his American and Japanese counterparts.

In his speech at the 77th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) last Sept. 21, 2022, Mr. Marcos urged the international community to maintain a rules-based international order as exemplified by the Philippines’ commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and reiterated his independent foreign policy maxim: “a friend to all, enemy to none.”

His bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida underscored the mutual interest in expanding security cooperation amidst pressing issues in the East and the South China Sea and China’s growing assertiveness in the region.

US President Joe Biden reiterated the US’ “ironclad” commitment to the defense of the Philippines, especially in the context of the West Philippine Sea. For its part, the Philippines welcomed the United States’ pledge, and shared that its primary consideration is a peaceful resolution of the dispute. Noting the value of the US-Philippines alliance, the two leaders expressed their intent to continue their partnership and reinforce stronger bilateral cooperation.

A shared interest in intensifying cooperation and shared responsibility in maintaining a secure and peaceful region has been the President’s advocacy in bilateral meetings with Asian and American counterparts. A united Indo-Pacific sends a powerful message to deter would-be aggressors and contributes to the region’s security and economic frameworks.

While performing its strategic balancing act, the Philippines must explore opportunities to elevate its existing relations to strategic partnerships by capitalizing on the international community’s renewed interest in the Indo-Pacific.

In order to effectively carry out a strategic balancing act, the Philippines must pursue an independent foreign policy that crosses political divides and remains relevant for future administrations. It must find a way to balance its relationships with key players while remaining true to its mandate of securing the Filipino people’s interests.

Over the next six years, Mr. Marcos and his administration must navigate an increasingly multipolar region while pursuing an independent foreign policy and leading the Philippines to become a relevant and credible player in the Indo-Pacific.

This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Image Source: Pixabay.

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