Next President must prioritize strong alliances amid China's maritime claims, say experts

Foreign policy experts warned that China has the ability to use direct military force for its maritime claims, so the next administration must craft a national security strategy that prioritizes strengthening ties with like-minded countries.

West Philippine Sea (FILE PHOTO FROM AFP)

“If China really wanted to reliably be able to coerce Manila, it would want the ability to use direct military force, and the reality is that China is going to have that ability,” said Elbridge Colby, former deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development of the US Department of Defense.

“I think the Philippines should concentrate much more on the high-end military scenario rather than the South China Sea gray zone,” Colby added.

Colby further said that "the risk is that China will increasingly be able to have military escalation dominance so that if there is a conflict arising over, say, Scarborough Shoal, the Chinese will be able to impose their will, and they will resolve any issues in their favor.”

The former US Defense official made the recommendation during a recent virtual forum of a leading think tank event organized by the Stratbase ADR Institute (ADRi).

A book entitled, “The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict,” by Colby was launched during the event.

The book highlights the need for the United States, the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, and Australia to work together on various strategies to respond to China use of direct force to consummate an invasion.

ADRi President, Professor Victor Andres “Dindo” Manhit also said that "the Philippines should utilize its expansive network in securing the freedom of the West Philippine Sea and in countering the aggressive behavior of Chinese maritime militia.”

“The maritime security issue in the West Philippine Sea remains a persistent and primary concern for the Philippines, and the next president should handle this issue decisively and firmly,” Manhit said.

“China’s aggressive behavior and expansionist agenda provide impetus for a strategic reassessment of the country’s foreign and security policy,” Manhit added.

The professor stressed that the next president must prioritize multilateral and inclusive cooperation with like-minded states such as the US, Japan, Australia, and India to ensure the maintenance of a rules-based international order and the realization of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

“The people must choose a candidate with strategic thinking to appraise the complex dynamics of regional geopolitics and the respective leaders in the international arena. The next President must always be sensitive to the true will of the people,” Manhit said.

“Beyond 2022, the Philippines must successfully contribute to building a more peaceful, prosperous, and stable region,” Manhit added.

Crossroads with China

A Stratbase ADRi special paper--“A National Security Strategy (NSS) for the 17th Philippine President: The Case for A Limited Balancing--authored by Stratbase trustee and program convenor Dr. Renato de Castro was also launched during the event.

It stated that the Philippines is now at a crossroads on whether to continue the appeasement policy or adopt one of “limited hard balancing.”

“Now the defense, military and foreign affairs establishments are pushing for a strategy aimed at constraining China’s revisionist agenda in the South China Sea,” de Castro said.

“Limited hard balancing seeks to constrain China’s ability to unilaterally impose its preferences on the Philippines and other littoral states through limited arms build-up and reliance on diplomatic coalition of like-minded states that will defend their common interest to maintain a rules-based international order,” de Castro added.

De Castro, a professor on international studies and National Security Adviser consultant, suggested that the Philippines must leverage on existing and new multilateral organizations such as the European Union, the East Asian Summit (EAS), Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) and the Australia, US, and United Kingdom Security Partnership or AUKUS to uphold the rules-based international order.

De Castro proposed a four-pronged security agenda for the new administration namely: the formulation of a new National Security Strategy (NSS) based on the 2016 Arbitral Ruling on the South China Sea Dispute and the incorporation of Public Health Security in the NSS; military capability building and modernization; organizational and legislative reforms; and exploration and strengthening of partnerships and alliances.

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