The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd and U.S. Coast Guard cutter Munro conduct Taiwan Strait transits August 27, 2021. — U.S. NAVY/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS

By Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, Reporter

THE PHILIPPINES will have a difficult time staying neutral in case tensions further escalate between the United States and China over Taiwan, according to political analysts.

“While trying as much to evade the Pelosi-rekindled dispute over Taiwan, the Philippines cannot be a mere passive observer because it is directly exposed by sheer geographic proximity, and in view of a number of shared interests it has with the protagonists,” Jaime B. Naval, who teaches political science at the University of the Philippines, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

“The Marcos administration must be clear as to which interests it would consider primordial, and on how it can safeguard and advance them given the increasingly conflictual trajectory of these rival powers,” he added.

“The Philippines is concerned with the rising tensions in the Taiwan Strait, just north of the Philippines,” the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. “The Philippines adheres to the One-China policy.”

“The Philippines urges restraint by all parties concerned. Diplomacy and dialogue must prevail.” 

The government on Wednesday said it was “closely monitoring” China’s moves in light of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of its territory.

Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles refrained from commenting on Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian’s call for the Philippines to abide by the One-China policy.

On the sidelines of a meeting of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers in Cambodia on Wednesday, Wang Yi told reporters Ms. Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan was a “complete farce” and that “those who play with fire will perish by it and those who offend China will be punished,” according to Chinese state-run news channel CGTN.

Four US warships, including an aircraft carrier, were positioned in waters east of Taiwan on what the US Navy called routine deployments on Tuesday amid Chinese anger over Ms. Pelosi’s visit to the island.

Ms. Pelosi is the highest-ranking official to visit Taiwan in 25 years. She said her visit is part of a “broader trip” to the Indo-Pacific region that focuses on “mutual security, economic partnership and democratic governance.”

“The Marcos administration has so far astutely maneuvered not to be dragged into the latest episode of major power rivalry by declining to comment at the moment, at least, until the latest barrage of denunciations and threats have simmered,” Mr. Naval said.

“But for how long and how well it will be able to steer clear of the cantankerous exchanges remains to be seen. On one hand, you have a long-drawn security ally, and on the other, a penultimate economic partner. We have a mix of other vital interconnected issues and interests at stake with both,” he added.

Like Taiwan, the Philippines has strong bilateral ties with the US, with several prevailing joint treaties and agreements including the visiting forces agreement, enhanced defense cooperation agreement and the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

Since the treaty requires both sides to help each other in case of any external aggression, the Philippines would naturally be on the side of the US, Renato C. de Castro, an International Studies professor at De La Salle University, said in a Viber message.

“In the real world, strategy and politics trump economics,” he said “The US is China’s main trading partner, but why is China triggering the crisis in the Taiwan Strait by holding several military drills around Taiwan?” he asked.

“Fighting a major war against the US and its allies? Good luck to China,” he added, noting that in the last major conflict China fought, the People’s Liberation Army suffered a major defeat in the hands of the Vietnamese militias in 1979.

“If China only huffs and puffs after issuing all those threats, President Xi Jinping’s political standing could get severely undermined.”

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday said China would “definitely take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity in response to the US Speaker’s visit,” it said in a statement posted on its website.

“All the consequences arising therefrom must be borne by the US side and the Taiwan independence separatist forces.”

Mr. Naval said the Philippine stance should not depend on its defense treaty with the US. “It must be because of our superordinate interests, material and otherwise, and not because of our parochiality or temporal convenience or, God forbid, sheer incompetence or indolence by us and our government leaders.”

Anna Rosario Malindog-Uy, a political analyst from think tank Philippine-BRICS Strategic Studies, said the best solution would be to not get involved.

“China’s fundamental military doctrine and principles won’t allow it to attack any country unless attacked first,” she said in a Viber message. “China will not attack the Philippines despite differences over the South China Sea and whatever eventuality in the Taiwan Strait.”

“But if the Philippines is used as a launchpad to attack China militarily, that’s a different story altogether. Of course, China will retaliate and that will be most unfortunate,” she added.

She said the Philippines should reject any alignments with the US and reconsider its defense deals with its former colonizer.

“The Philippines has no enemies and should not create one at all costs,” Ms. Uy said. “There’s no need to defend itself from any country for that matter, and no need to choose a side. Our relations with each country should be based on our national interests and should be based on what’s good for the country and not for the benefit of other countries at our expense.”

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