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The polarized era in the Asia-Pacific: US-Philippines Rapprochement

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The political atmosphere in the Asia-Pacific is shaped by the polarization and alliances in the region. Indeed, it can be said that the region has become the main playing field for the rivalry between China and the United States (US) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The Asia-Pacific is at the center of this global struggle for influence. Undoubtedly, this situation pushes the countries of the region to choose sides and cooperate with one of the great powers in foreign policy-making processes.

On the other hand, these alliances create advantages for hegemonic powers such as the US and China in terms of increasing their influence, not being alone in the international public opinion regarding their actions, and gaining both geopolitical and geostrategic advantage over each other. At the heart of these alliances lies military cooperation in particular.

Indeed, when the political framework of the region is analyzed, it can be said that countries such as Australia, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam have established close contacts with the US and NATO. This is because these countries act on the basis of the West in the region and shape their foreign policies based on the “anti-China sentiment” exported by the US. Moreover, it can be argued that the US sees these actors as an opportunity for cooperation in containing China.

In this context, the Philippines has recently come to the forefront among these actors. In this context, first of all, the geopolitical positioning of the Philippines is instructive in terms of the aforementioned rapprochement. Because the Philippines is located in Southeast Asia.[1] For this reason, the country is located to the east of the South China Sea. This is because the proximity of both the South China Sea, which is disputed by the Nine-Dash Line issue, and Taiwan, which is a territorial integrity issue for China, makes Manila an essential regional actor for Washington to cooperate with.

In addition, the borders between the parties in the Asia-Pacific are sharpening and the poles are becoming clearer. This is increasingly blocking the path to reconciliation and forcing regional actors to choose sides. Indeed, in such a conjuncture where the security framework has become quite fragile, it can be said that despite some historical problems, the Philippines prefers to develop a closer and more positive dialogue with the West and the US.

It can be argued that one of the most important examples of this situation is Manila’s frequent expressions of concern over the South China Sea. Indeed, on December 20, 2022, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs stated that Beijing’s activities in the South China Sea have caused “grave concern” in Manila.  At the same time, the ministry stated that China’s actions there violate international law and ignore the territorial status.[2]

On the other hand, on February 2, 2023, in a joint statement by Philippine Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Asutin, Manila gave Washington access to four new military bases.[3] Both developments show that the Philippines has distanced itself from China and entered into a military alliance with the US.

Moreover, in addition to these examples, the latest development is quite remarkable. As a matter of fact, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the President of the Philippines, organized a four-day trip to the United States and held a meeting with US President Joe Biden at the White House on May 1, 2023.[4] Bilateral trade relations between the two sides and increasing US investment in the Philippines were discussed during the meeting.[5]

In addition, the main topic of the meeting was China’s activities in the Asia-Pacific and in particular in the South China Sea. For this reason, both presidents agreed that Manila and Washington should increase and deepen their military and security-based agreements.

On the other hand, Marcos became the first President of the Philippines to visit the White House in ten years.[6] In particular, the emphasis on China’s regional actions during the meeting, especially the expansion of military ties between Manila and Washington, can be interpreted as the Philippines establishing a close contact with the United States over anti-China sentiments and choosing its side.

In conclusion, the Philippines stands out as a strategically important actor in the Asia-Pacific due to its geopolitical location and proximity to regional crises. Indeed, the conjuncture of the region forces states to choose sides. Given the importance Washington attaches to Manila due to its strategic importance, it can be said that the Philippines has chosen the US, and therefore the West, in terms of anti-China sentiment.


[1] “The Philippines at A Glance”, Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Philippines to the United Nations, https://www.un.int/philippines/philippines/philippines-glance#, (Date of Accession: 06.05.2023).

[2] “Philippines ‘Concerned’ over China Land Reclamation in Disputed Sea”, Thai PBS World, https://www.thaipbsworld.com/philippines-concerned-over-china-land-reclamation-in-disputed-sea/, (Date of Accession: 06.05.2023).

[3] “Philippines Agrees to Allow US Wider Access to Military Bases”, Al Jazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/2/2/philippines-set-to-allow-wider-us-access-to-military-bases, (Date of Accession: 06.05.2023).

[4] “Biden Looks to Strenghten Ties with Philippines as Marcos Visits White House, Cable News Network, https://edition.cnn.com/2023/05/01/politics/philippines-president-marcos-biden-defense/index.html, (Date of Accession: 06.05.2023).

[5] “President Marcos Jr. Meets with President Biden – But the United States Position in Southeast Asia is Increasingly Shaky”, Council on Foreign Relations, https://www.cfr.org/blog/president-marcos-jr-meets-president-biden-us-position-southeast-asia-increasingly-shaky, Date of Accession: 06.05.2023).

[6] “’Irconlad’: Biden, Marcos Jr Affirm United States-Philippines Security Ties”, Al Jazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/5/1/military-ties-top-agenda-as-biden-meets-philippines-marcos-jr, (Date of Accession: 06.05.2023).

Zeki Talustan GÜLTEN
Zeki Talustan GÜLTEN
Zeki Talustan Gülten graduated from Yalova University, Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, Department of International Relations in 2021 with his graduation thesis titled "American Foreign Policy" and from Anadolu University, Open Education Faculty, Department of Foreign Trade in 2023. Gülten, who is currently pursuing her Master's Degree with Thesis at Marmara University Institute of Social Sciences, Department of International Relations, was a student at the Faculty of International and Political Studies at Lodz University for a semester within the framework of the Erasmus+ program during her undergraduate education. Working as an Asia-Pacific Research Assistant at ANKASAM, Gülten's main areas of interest are American Foreign Policy, Asia-Pacific and International Law. Gülten is fluent in English.