What changes will the new Philippine administration make to foreign policy?

Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. celebrates with new Vice President Sara Duterte after taking his oath as the president of the Philippines in Manila on June 30. (Source: EZRA ACAYAN)

ASEAN and the Philippines: A More Complex Interdependence 

The Philippines is an ASEAN founding member and one of two ASEAN member nations having affiliations with the US. This dictates its precarious status with the US and ASEAN. 

Furthermore, the Philippines and its two ASEAN members, Indonesia and Malaysia, have complicated historical problems, which has become one of the grounds for supporting ASEAN to handle member relations in its own way. The Philippines had a very developed economy in ASEAN during the conclusion of the Cold War, but it lags significantly behind since the Cold War ended, although it still has a pretty significant effect. 

The growth of strategic security relations between the Philippines and the United States is predicted but unacceptable for ASEAN. The great majority of ASEAN member states may agree on this. ASEAN is hesitant to be passively entangled by the strategic partnership between the United States and the Philippines, and is concerned that the Philippines would become an agent of estrangement amongst ASEAN. 

Former Philippine Foreign Minister Rosario attempted to incorporate the Huangyan Island incident in the final joint statement at the 45th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in July 2012, exacerbating the divide among ASEAN members. The Myanmar crisis, on the other hand, is putting ASEAN’s internal cohesiveness to the test, and ASEAN is keen for the Philippines to properly preserve internal unity. 

ASEAN is a key support and development partner for the Philippines’ international relations, and it may help to reduce tensions with other major countries at critical junctures. Many ASEAN nations, like the Philippines, have strong desires and activities to abduct ASEAN members for personal benefit, but they also recognize that ASEAN is only an intergovernmental body with a limited preventative diplomatic role. When there is a genuine confrontation with another country, the chance of direct ASEAN action is almost nil. Maintaining an ally with the US in this scenario would also assist to exert some pressure on other ASEAN members. 

As a result, even after Marcos takes office, ASEAN is likely to continue to play an important part in the Philippines’ foreign strategic chessboard. After all, if the game between China and the US becomes more intense, ASEAN may become a “safe haven” for the Philippines to avoid the serious consequences, and work with other ASEAN members to collectively hedge against the potential negative effects of the fierce competition between China and the US. Of course, the Marcos administration, like other ASEAN nations, would aggressively take advantage of preferential measures that China and the US may give to advance national interests while maintaining strong collaboration with both China and the US. 

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In overall, the Marcos administration’s foreign policy will be more steady, pragmatic, and adaptable. In terms of establishing international relations, ASEAN, China, the United States, and other SEA nations may come first; but, in terms of strategic cooperation, the United States, ASEAN, other SEA countries, and China may come first, followed by other countries. 

Of course, this is merely a high-probability priority order that will change during certain times and phases. In this respect, China must have a clear understanding and adopt a proactive approach in order to make the two nations’ relations secure and far-reaching in the process of establishing the “comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership” with the Philippines.