The power of alliances in the preservation of a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific

Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute

The current geopolitical situation in our part of the world is complex and precarious. Every day, there are developments that make us a little bit more uneasy. In February, a Chinese vessel pointed a military-grade laser at the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG). And then, just this weekend, PCG personnel stationed in Pag-asa Island — the largest in the Kalayaan Group of Islands — reported more than 40 Chinese vessels anchored within 4.5 miles to eight miles from the island shores, clearly within Pag-asa’s 12-nautical mile territorial sea.

“Their continuing unauthorized presence is clearly inconsistent with the right of innocent passage and a blatant violation of the Philippines’ territorial integrity,” a statement from the Philippine Coast Guard read.

How will we react to these incursions and how do we put these incidents in the larger context of threats and risks to the territorial integrity of our country and to the Indo-Pacific region?

The Stratbase ADR Institute organized an onsite-online discussion on how a free and open Indo-Pacific region would be best achieved given the existing and evolving threats confronting us, both traditional and non-traditional. Experts from the diplomatic and academic/think-tank community joined us in the event titled “Strengthening Partnerships Toward a Free and Open Indo-Pacific” held Friday, March 3.

Opening the discussion was Kenichi Matsuda, the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of Japan in the Philippines. He reiterated that the Philippines is a crucial partner of Japan and that we share common values: Freedom, democracy, respect for basic human rights, and the rule of law.

A foreign and national security expert, Miyake Kunihiko, who is the Research Director of The Canon Institute for Global Studies, delved into the past to illustrate why, although history does not necessarily repeat itself, it almost always rhymes. He said China is acting the way it does because it recognizes that the threat to a valuable, prosperous China comes from the sea.

Mr. Miyake highlighted that there could be no defense without a good armed forces and without military alliances, and no victory without winning the information war. Allies will help, he said, only if a country itself and its leaders themselves fight for their territory.

Meanwhile, Dr. Ronald Mendoza, Committee Member of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA) and Senior Economist at the Ateneo Policy Center, acknowledged that the partnership between the Philippines and Japan is being forged during uncertain times.

Given this, he said, “economic partnership is even more important in the face of presently elevated geo-political risks notably due to rising tensions involving China and the US.”

Gregory Poling, Senior Fellow and Director at the Southeast Asia Program and Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said they are calling for continued and increasing support from both the US and Japan on maritime domain awareness capabilities for the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the PCG.

It is reassuring to be in the company of like-minded friends like Japan and the United States, with whom we share common values. It is also not surprising that, according to a Pulse Asia survey, our people trust these two countries the most. They have, after all, staunchly supported us in asserting our 2016 victory before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

Specifically, both countries have reiterated their commitment to uphold a free and open Indo-Pacific region. Part of this is protecting the maritime domain of states against the expansionist and bullying tactics of other bigger states — improving our defense capabilities through joint maritime patrols, strategic reciprocal port calls and aircraft visits, transfer of defense equipment and technology, continuous cooperation on previously transferred defense equipment, and capacity building.

The conversation continues. Today, March 8, we will have another hybrid town hall discussion, this time focusing on countering gray zone operations in the maritime Indo-Pacific region. In the context of what’s happening in the West Philippine Sea, it’s how the Philippines and allies should address the intimidating actions being instigated by Beijing to achieve economic, security, and foreign policy objectives that combines pressure tactics like militarization, cyber misinformation, Chinese Maritime Militia and Chinese Coast Guard maneuvers, short of using military force.

For this event, we are partnering with Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) Philippines. We will bring together government officials, the diplomatic community, scholars, and policy experts to engage in dialogue on the threats posed by gray zone operations to our national security.

Geopolitics is a high-stakes arena that does not only involve heads of state, defense officials, or diplomats. At its very core, it affects the lives of ordinary citizens and the right to live in peace and security.

President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. has avowed that only the national interest will govern his foreign policy. We must be one in asserting our sovereignty and territorial rights amid pervasive attempts to undermine it and continue to uphold a rules-based international order. We look forward to greater cooperation with our freedom loving allies towards fortifying a peaceful and secure Indo-Pacific region.

This article was originally published in BusinessWorld.

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