Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. made a significant departure from his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte’s pro-Beijing policies, signaling a new alliance with the United States in the fight against China. According to Gregory Poling, director of the Southeast Asia Program and Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “After six years of the Duterte government trying to do the exact opposite and bend over backwards to appease Beijing, the perception in Manila is that they got nothing for it.” In contrast, Marcos is enhancing deterrence by strengthening the alliance with the Americans.
The two countries recently agreed to allow the U.S. military access to four more Philippine military bases in a deal known as the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. The deal could prove valuable to Washington and Manila, who are both struggling with increased Chinese harassment of vessels in the South China Sea and toward Taiwan. The U.S. sees Manila as an ideal area from which to counter a possible future Chinese invasion of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory. It is unknown what military assets the U.S. would place at the four island bases. A senior defense official told reporters that details are still being worked out.
Biden met with Marcos in the Oval Office and made clear that the United States “remains ironclad in our commitment to the defense of the Philippines, including the South China Sea, and we will continue to support the Philippines’s military modernization.” A joint statement later said Biden’s pledge means any attack on the Philippine military, a public vessel or aircraft in the Pacific would trigger U.S. mutual defense commitments made under a 1951 mutual defense treaty.
Marcos’s visit to the U.S. comes days after the U.S. and Philippine militaries wrapped up major joint exercises meant to deter Chinese influence in the South China Sea. The senior defense official told reporters that Austin and Marcos would discuss and announce “new bilateral defense guidelines,” meant to serve as a roadmap for how the two countries will face land, air, maritime, space, and cyber threats as allies.
The Philippines faces an external threat for the first time, certainly since the end of the Cold War. The country is turning to a closer U.S. alliance as a deterrent to counter Chinese aggression. This alliance with the U.S. will provide military and economic cooperation and new guidelines for how the two countries will face future threats as allies. The Biden administration also plans to donate three C-130 aircraft and send extra patrol boats to the Philippines.