Today’s Washington Post has a useful article outlining the plans for a much greater U.S. military presence in the Philippines. The article discusses all of the potential options being put on the table between U.S. and Philippines officials: “Operating Navy ships from the Philippines, deploying troops on a rotational basis and staging more frequent joint exercises.”
The piece examines the Philippines’ desire for a renewed American presence in response to graver perceived threats from China. After all, don’t forget that the Philippines tossed U.S. forces out of their bases in the Philippines in the early 1990s during the administration of Fidel Ramos; In fact, since U.S. occupation a century ago, the Philippines has had a very up and down relationship with the former colonial power. Certainly the Philippines’ inability to defend itself in the face of Chinese assertiveness over the South China Sea is a major part of the renewed desire for an American presence. The Philippines’ navy is virtually nonexistent in many parts of the country’s waters, so it could hardly be called upon to defend anything against China.
But just as important as the strategic reasons for the renewed U.S. presence, I think, is the deteriorating public image of China in the Philippines, as compared to just a few years ago – and particularly, the deteriorating public image on the Philippine left, which includes some of the same people who, back in the 1980s and early 1990s, pushed for the U.S. military to leave the country. Five or six years ago, during trips to the Philippines, I found many opinion leaders saw in China’s rise a potential counterweight to the U.S. presence, and also an excellent new source of investment. But since then, allegations of graft in Chinese investments in the Philippines, and anger of alleged environmental and labor abuses at China-funded mining projects (which have been exhaustively detailed in the Philippines media) have seriously soured the public image of China in the Philippines. Now, activists, union leaders, and others on the left that I speak with condemn China, and, almost by default, have warmer feelings toward the U.S., and by extension, American investment.