Manila, Philippines (CNN) – The Philippines has held a military alliance with the United States for decades, but China’s rapidly increasing military and trade strength has given President Rodrigo Duterte reason to pause, putting the U.S.’ ‘ironclad’ alliance to the test.
Military analysts believe China has now locked in its regional power role, which strengthens Beijing’s iron grip on the South China Sea.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte toured a Chinese warship. The optics are clear–the two countries growing closer.
It’s a dramatic turnaround. In 2016 the Philippines won a court of arbitration case against the Chinese over disputed islands in the South China Sea, infuriating Beijing.
The ambassador of the Phillipines to China told me that Duterte shelved that ruling, in part because the U.S. didn’t have their back.
Philippine ambassador to China Chito Sta.Romana, said, “That is why the President kept asking the U.S. ambassador, ‘Are you with us or not?’ He did not get a clear answer. The strategic logic is very simple. Don’t put your eggs in one basket.”
A military alliance compels the U.S. to defend the Philippines if attacked.
In a statement, a U.S. State Department spokesperson told CNN that the alliance is quote “ironclad.”
“Our Dependability and reliability as an ally has been established over decades.”
But in the South China Sea, China has succeeded in turning disputed sandbanks into islands–then, military installations.
CNN military analyst James “Spider” Marks said, “That genie is out of the bottle. The islands that they have created, the development that they have put down, the roots they have planted in the South China Sea are forever.”
And China’s military just keeps getting stronger.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is personally overseeing a modernizing air force and navy–recently launching its first homegrown aircraft carrier.
President Trump seems reluctant to push the South China Sea issue as he depends on China to help pressure North Korea to stop its nuclear program.
So analysts say China is freer to expand its hard and soft power in the region.
With Duterte welcoming billions in Chinese investment after his military shift.
David Mckenzie with CNN said, “A cynic might say that the Philippines has sold out its sovereignty on the South China Sea to get investment from China.”
Chito Sta. Romana said, “Well this is the misunderstanding. We are trying to get investments from China, but not at the price of our sovereignty.”
“They have been a worldwide global influence economically for the longest time, they are now creating a proportional military capability to exercise element of power in a way that can be perceived and should be perceived as a threat,” Marks said.
It seems that, in Asia the might threat of China’s military and the lure of its money is hard to counter.