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Manila fears it's made a bad bet on Washington's geopolitical game

By LI YANG | China Daily | Updated: 2024-03-05 07:43

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte attends a plenary session at a regional summit in Bangkok, Thailand, November 2, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez's recent remarks related to the South China Sea and Sino-Philippine relations are contradictory, and telling signs of the troubles Manila has made for itself.

That Romualdez urged Washington to understand that the South China Sea is the real "flashpoint" rather than Taiwan and his quasi-begging that the US pledge more support to the Philippines by taking their treaties seriously and teaming up with the other allies expose the deep unease of Manila that having grabbed the coattails of the Joe Biden administration's "Indo-Pacific" strategy to stage provocative stunts in the South China Sea, it risks being left high and dry by Washington should its ill-considered gambits trigger an emergency.

That's why Romualdez called the message he obtained from his recent contact with one of Donald Trump's close advisors, former national security advisor Robert O'Brien, "consoling". He has received the message that the US' "Indo-Pacific" strategy is unlikely to change should Trump win the presidential election in November.

That means Manila is actually still not confident about betting the future of the Philippines on the US. That is true of Tokyo as well. The Fumio Kishida government has also been trying to get in touch with Trump's team to seek similar reassurance.

That means that having been marshaled to knavery by the US, neither the Philippines nor Japan wants to engage in such mischief alone, and they fear the consequences they might have to bear for the ugly roles they have been playing against China without the backing of the US. If there is a change of US administration that decides to mend ties with China rather than further straining them, then the Philippines and Japan worry they will be hoisted by their own petard.

Compared with Japan, a developed economy that occupies a place in the upper end of the global value chain, the Philippines relies more heavily on the Chinese market and Chinese investment, which explains why Romualdez expressed Manila's concern that Beijing might take advantage of the close Sino-Philippine economic ties to implement "economic coercion" against Manila. That remark originates from Manila's guilty conscience as it is aware that it is challenging China's sovereignty and territorial integrity by doing the US' bidding in the region.

To solicit Washington's support, Romualdez tried to define the countermeasures Manila expects Beijing to take to safeguard China's legal rights and interests as "aggression".

All that being said, it is ridiculous for Romualdez to say that he is still pushing for diplomacy to ease the tensions between the Philippines and China. His true purpose is actually, as he confessed, to call on other Southeast Asian nations to pick the US' side along with Manila so they can contend with China together.

The questions the spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in the Philippines raised in response to these irresponsible remarks are pertinent for any country mulling acceptance of Romualdez's solicitation: Which country keeps stirring up the situation in the South China Sea? Which country is constantly spreading the "China threat theory"? Which country keeps forming gangs to cause trouble? Which country has a penchant for "economic coercion"?

Peace and development are the trend of the times and the common aspiration of countries in the region. What Manila has been doing with its adventurous games with Washington has only further complicated the regional situation, undermined regional peace and stability, and backfired on its own security and interests.

It is suggested Manila correct its strategic misjudgment of the situation and stop making trouble in the South China Sea.

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