UP Proposals On Foreign Policy

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“The Philippines now finds itself in the midst of intensifying great power rivalry, particularly between the United States and China”

President–elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has yet to name the next Foreign Affairs Secretary as of today, quite possibly because he wants to choose from a roster of names deemed highly qualified for the job and competent to explain the new administration’s stand on complex foreign policy issues.

But the incoming Foreign Secretary may want to consider the unsolicited proposals of the premier State University regarding our foreign policy thrusts in the next six years.

The UP academics view Philippine foreign relations at present as mainly reactive to developments on the world stage, thus failing to establish a stable and consistent foreign policy compatible with long-term national goals.

The Philippines now finds itself in the midst of intensifying great power rivalry, particularly between the United States and China. At the same time, faces an ongoing territorial and maritime dispute in the South China Sea with its neighbors, notably China.

The country has a longstanding Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States under which one side is bound to help the other when attacked by a third country.

This arrangement keeps Beijing wary of any buildup of American forces and armaments in the Philippines, and has therefore established artificial islands in parts of the South China Sea with military fortifications as part of its claimed ownership of nearly the whole of the vital sealane under the so-called “nine-dash-line.”

For UP, “more than at any other time, the Philippines needs to more clearly define its strategic interests to help the country navigate this period of shifting power balance.”

The academic group pointed out that while the Aquino administration from 2010 to 2016 considered China as an emerging military power and a potential threat to the country’s maritime security, this led to efforts to strengthen ties with allies such as the US and Japan.

But the Duterte administration chose to go in the opposite direction and sought to move the country closer to China and Russia, countries engaged in strategic competition with the US and its allies as they are seen as alternative sources for markets, technologies, and economic opportunities.

For UP, China remains the country’s greatest foreign policy challenge since it presents major opportunities for economic development, but at the same time remains a potential threat to national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Another foreign policy issue is the country’s over-reliance on remittances from its overseas labor force for economic stability.

This is a major vulnerability because it could jeopardize domestic political stability.

The disruption of overseas employment due to the COVID-19 pandemic revealed the limitations of having an economy that is largely based on labor exports.

The country must therefore strengthen agriculture and build its domestic industries to ensure economic resilience in the face of disruptions caused by regional and global crises.

Yet another foreign policy conundrum is the historical tradition of leaving foreign policy solely in the hands of the Chief Executive, because this has led to contradicting narratives and different construction of identities resulting in fragmentation and self-contradiction in the pursuit of national interests.

This is further exacerbated by the absence of a clear, consistent, pro-active, non-partisan geopolitical strategy.

Foreign policy is shaped only by the leader’s own perceptions, core values, state-society relations, domestic institutions and resources, culture, and political climate.

Foreign policy issues should have a greater role in the domestic discourse for the public to really understand what the stakes are.

It is also important to encourage foreign policy executives to formulate and implement firm and consistent principle-based policies that benefit the nation regardless of changes in the administration.

External pressures, the increasingly restrictive strategic environment, and the shifting balance of power in the region all influence and constrain the decision-making process of the country’s leaders, making it difficult to create a foreign policy that is totally independent.

The key, however, is to achieve sufficient autonomy that enables the country to navigate today’s complex and interdependent world to achieve clear national objectives.

The Philippines must use its resources to also shape its strategic environment and contribute to strengthening the security architecture in a way that they work to the country’s own advantage, and not merely become a passive element in the grand strategies of other nations.

The Philippines needs a concrete plan of action guided by its strategic interests of safeguarding the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

To better navigate the changing regional and global power structure, the Philippines must have a clear vision of its role and place in the global community.

The country should identify its strategic interests that would, in turn, serve as the guide in the formulation and implementation of an independent foreign policy.

We need to be guided by clear principles and a long-range vision that go beyond the terms of administrations, or of appointed leaders in the Executive branch.

Philippine foreign policy should sustain strong and secure regional alliances to manage the new realities in the WPS by using diplomacy to shape the environment to the country’s best advantage.

The WPS is more than an arena for confrontation between major powers; it is a wellspring of natural resources and nexus of ecological services that is key to the development of the country’s largely untapped Blue Economy.

Research on the WPS should be funded, and exploration, exploitation, and management activities should be undertaken on a sustained basis.

The government should also establish multiple platforms where the public can engage in discussions that highlight the nation’s interests, articulate national policies and strategies, organize constituencies for the pursuit of these interests, policies, and strategies, and lay the ground for stable and long-lasting principles for the Philippines’ independent foreign policy.

We must also develop a coherent foreign policy framework that takes into account the recursive relationship between international relations and international political economy, and traditional and non-traditional security.

(Email: ernhil@yahoo.com)

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