Coalition of the Unwilling? Resistance to Marcos Jr.’s EDCA Deal

A year after securing a landslide election victory, Philippine president Marcos Jr. has found himself in a political sweet spot. The Southeast Asian country posted robust economic growth despite fears of a global recession, while his approval ratings have remained extremely high despite public concerns over stubborn inflation in the past year. Marcos Jr. has […]

Marcos Jr. Steers Manila toward Washington and Tokyo

Less than a year into office, Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has already signaled a major overhaul in his country’s foreign policy. In response to China’s harassment of Philippine coast guard vessels in the South China Sea, the Filipino leader summoned Chinese ambassador Huang Xilian to express his “serious concern” over the “increasing frequency and […]

Gamechanger: Marcos Jr. Transforms the Philippine-U.S. Alliance

Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s emphatic election victory earlier this year—securing more votes than all his rivals combined—caught many observers by surprise, including the victor himself. Many critics feared that the return of the controversial political dynasty to the Malacañang presidential Palace would spell doom for the Philippines’ besieged democracy following six years of authoritarian populism under […]

Marcos Jr. and ASEAN: Minilateralism in the South China Sea

Shortly after Ferdinand Marcos Jr. assumed the reins of power in the Philippines, an observer forecasted a major foreign policy reboot, which would defy both his populist and liberal predecessors. The working consensus at the time, however, was that the new Filipino president would largely continue former President Rodrigo Duterte’s Beijing-friendly foreign policy. After all, […]

Foreign Policy under Marcos Jr.: More like Father than Outgoing Duterte

Throughout much of his adult life, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. lived in his father’s shadow. To many observers, he lacked both the fierce ambition as well as the intellectual credentials of former Filipino dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, who reigned longer than any president in the country’s history. His own father fretted over ending up with a […]

South China Sea: Countering Hun Sen’s Cowboy Diplomacy

Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen kicked off his rotational chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with characteristic “cowboy diplomacy.” Just months after the regional organization disinvited Myanmar’s junta leaders from regional meetings due to the lack of progress on the implementation the “Five Point Consensus”, the Cambodia leader became the first head […]

Strategic Catch Up: Biden’s Team Is Stepping Up in Southeast Asia

Vice-President Kamala Harris’s maiden visit to Southeast Asia this month couldn’t have come at a more critical juncture. The Biden administration’s “hard and messy” exit from Afghanistan has not only sapped the prestige of American power, at least for the moment, but also enabled rivals and their proxies to gloatingly question the United States’ commitment […]

The Visiting Forces Agreement and the Future of U.S.-Philippine Relations

President Joseph Biden’s victory in last year’s elections was warmly welcomed across Southeast Asia, a vital region at the heart of a brewing new Cold War. Earlier this year, the annual ISEAS Yusof-Ishak Institute survey showed that almost two-thirds of Southeast Asian respondents expressed their preference for the United States over China, a jump in […]

Why Biden Should Pursue “Minilateralism” with ASEAN

Since taking office, Joseph Biden’s administration has overseen a renaissance in American commitment to multilateral diplomacy. In its first month in office, the new American leadership has embarked on a global charm offensive to restore frayed international ties following four years of Trumpian unilateralism and protectionism. Within a single week, President Biden held crucial talks […]

South China Sea: A Biden-Duterte Reset

If there is a single phrase that best captures President-elect Joseph Biden’s still-nebulous foreign policy doctrine, it is this: “America is back”. In one of his most revealing interviews since the November elections, the incoming U.S. president made it clear that under his administration, “America’s going to reassert its role in the world and be […]

Opportunism and Opportunity: Responding to Beijing’s Push in the South China Sea

During my visit to Hainan last December, the mood among Chinese officials was largely somber. Despite the triumphant launch of the country’s first indigenously-built aircraft carrier, attended by no less than President Xi Jinping, there was a profound sense of foreboding. The Chinese leader warned of  the “grey rhinos” of domestic economic imbalances and “black […]

The Day After VFA: Saving the Philippine-U.S. Alliance

Only weeks ago, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s shocking decision to unilaterally scrap the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) dominated conversations among Asia hands. In fact, the topic repeatedly popped up during my talks in the United States in late-February. However, with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic tightening its grip on nations across the world, conventional wisdom […]

Vietnam’s Legal Warfare Against China: Prospects and Challenges

Ahead of its much-anticipated chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) next year, and amid a months-long naval showdown in the South China Sea, Vietnam has hinted at the possibility of legal warfare against China. Vietnamese deputy foreign minister Le Hoai Trung openly warned in early November that diplomacy isn’t the only tool […]

Duterte’s Pivot to Russia

While Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial China policy has understandably attracted considerable attention, few have taken his strategic pivot to Russia seriously enough. Instead, even some senior Filipino officials view burgeoning ties with Moscow as nothing but a reflection of Duterte’s personal fascination with Russia and his famed “bromance” with Vladimir Putin. But reaching out […]

Duterte’s Game in Beijing

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s early-August announcement that he will finally invoke the Philippines’ arbitral tribunal victory against Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea took everyone by surprise. After all, it represented a marked shift from his earlier decision to “set aside” the landmark ruling, which has been vehemently rejected by China as “null and […]

The Reed Bank Crisis: A Call for Upgrading the Philippine-U.S. Alliance

This year’s annual Bilateral Strategic Dialogue to coordinate the Philippine-U.S. alliance could not have come at a more opportune moment. First, it comes months after Philippine defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana called for a comprehensive review of the alliance in light of radical changes in the Indo-Pacific geopolitical environment. The Philippine defense chief, who formerly served […]

Duterte’s Pivot to Japan

One of the most underappreciated aspects of Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s foreign policy has been his facilitation of a golden age in bilateral relations with Japan. This strategic approach was on full display during the Filipino president’s latest visit to Tokyo, the third in less than three years, which revealed the deep strategic ties that […]

Duterte’s Scarborough Shoal Moment

Three years into his quiescent China policy, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte is experiencing a rude awakening in the South China Sea. The ongoing Chinese siege of the Philippines’ largest land feature in the Spratlys, Thitu Island, represents Duterte’s greatest foreign policy crisis and, ironically, the very country he has courted assiduously is at the heart […]

China’s Economic Cabbage Strategy

The blossoming Philippines-China relationship has opened a floodgate of Chinese investments, unnerving domestic players including the influential military establishment. In particular, China’s bid for a 300-hectares shipping yard in Subic Bay, the former site of one of the United States’ largest overseas naval bases, has unleashed a political firestorm, exposing the fragility of the ongoing rapprochement and the resilience of Beijing-skeptic sentiments in the Southeast Asian country.