Manila’s prudence to uphold autonomy welcome

That the Philippines invited State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang to visit Manila from Friday to Sunday, at the height of the largest Philippines-United States joint military drill from April 11-28, and before Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr's scheduled visit to Washington starts on May 1 shows the prudence with which it is trying to handle relations with Beijing and Washington.

Manila has enough reasons to do so in a bid to avoid being dragged deep into the rising tensions between the US and China.

The readiness of Beijing to accept that invitation and Qin's busy schedule during his first visit to the Philippines since taking office demonstrate Beijing's sincerity in promoting friendly relations and its willingness to engage in communication to help Manila handle the situation carefully.

Before and after Marcos' visit to Beijing in January, US Vice-President Kamala Harris, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin all visited the Southeast Asian country one after another resulting in Manila agreeing to give the US access to four more military bases. Their locations make them ideal bases for the US military to either interfere in the Taiwan question or meddle in the situation in the South China Sea. There is no doubt that the US gained four more footholds in the Philippines for the purpose of strengthening its military presence and military logistical capacity, rather than its commitment to help the Philippine people to defend their national interests or security.

By forcing Manila to acquiesce to its demand for more military bases immediately after Marcos returned from his highly productive visit to China, Washington was trying to warn other regional countries that it will not allow them to throw themselves into Beijing's arms.

That's nothing but strong-arming other countries, which also indicates that the US has accepted its inability to engage these countries in economy and trade in a deeper and wider sense than China. All regional players are fully aware of that as well, and Manila, to some extent, has set them an example of how to carefully walk on a tightrope between Beijing and Washington to maximize national interests.

It is to be hoped, as Qin made clear, that the Philippines can avoid being caught between Beijing and Washington by earnestly responding to China's legitimate concerns, respecting China's sovereignty, security and territorial integrity, and fulfilling its commitment of adhering to strategic independence.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo has emphasized that Manila will not allow the US military to use the Philippine bases to intervene in Taiwan-related issues, a commitment that Beijing will naturally keep a close eye on.

It was particularly good to hear that in his meeting with Qin in Manila on Saturday, President Marcos stressed that the Taiwan question is China's internal affair and that the Philippines will abide by the one-China policy. That is the necessary foundation for the two neighbors to expand cooperation, strengthen communication and properly handle maritime issues so as not to let their differences interfere with the overall interests of bilateral relations.