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U.S.-Philippines Relations Benefit From China’s Poor Public Image

by Joshua Kurlantzick
January 26, 2012

The Virginia-class attack submarine USS Texas moors alongside the submarine tender USS Emory S. Land in Subic Bay, Philippines. The Virginia-class attack submarine USS Texas moors alongside the submarine tender USS Emory S. Land in Subic Bay, Philippines (David R. Krigbaum/Courtesy Reuters).


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.

Post a Comment 7 Comments

  • Posted by Steven Rood

    The New York Times article on this subject has this quote:

    “The United States military is violating our sovereignty and intruding on our internal affairs,” said Lana Linaban, secretary general of the women’s rights organization Gabriela. “In the guise of military support, they are influencing our government.”

    “We can’t rely on our alliance with the United States to protect us from China,” she said. “We should defend our country with our own military.”

    On the other hand, Social Weather Stations public opinion data I presented today (January 26) at The Asia Foundation in Washigton DC shows that going back to the beginning of the data series in 1994 China is always been at best equally trusted and distrusted, while the United States is overwhelmingly trusted by the citizenry.

  • Posted by bob walker

    US presence in the Philippines takes us back to 1944 with MacArthur’s return.
    At that time Adm King wanted to occupy Formosa [at the time] in preparation for the invasion of Japan……which the US also ‘ controls’
    So as of ,lets say,the culmination of Obama’s first stint the US could contro the area encompassed by Singapore,The Philippines,Australia,New Zealand,Guam et al,Japan and Taiwan………quite amazing.
    Also West holds no joy for China landwise as many of Central Asia has also awakened [dare I say it ] democracy-wise.
    China’s ‘lily-pads’ of bases and resourses are a bother now being so widespread.

  • Posted by Bernard Paul

    Just to point a few things about this article:

    1. “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;”

    US bases in the Philippines were formally ejected by the Philippine Senate in 1991 during the presidency of Corazon Aquino, not Fidel Ramos.

    2. I am a Filipino, and generally favor US diplomatic and military activities in Southeast Asia, but please no ground troops in our sovereign territory. Accept first ICC jurisdiction, and honor your commitments in Philippines’ bilateral agreement with US, the Visting Forces Agreement.

  • Posted by RousseauC

    The US always tries to take advantage of other misfortune. That is despicable. How about China making fun of US citizens detained in Egypt and cashing in on the sour US-Egypt relations? How about China stirs up the tension among American Muslims who protested in New Year against the NYPD chief Ray Kelly and the film Third Jihad? How about China…..

    China has never done that. So China deserves more respect and is a more decent country in that regard.

  • Posted by bagraz01

    @Gabriela saying “We should defend our country with our own military.” Can we? Kaya naba natin? We need more advance military equipments.
    I vote for More Joint Military Exercises(Walang Spy drones).

  • Posted by sam

    The US bases are ejected because they did not compensate us well. If they will pay us like they pay the Pakistani government why not? They cant even give their aging Hamilton class cutter to us for free. The Usa need the Philippines more than the Philippines need the Usa on security reasons.

    To RousseauC- China killed their citizen with tanks.

  • Posted by Eric Haagenstad

    The question here for the United States is not if we will have to support the Philippines against an increasingly aggressive China, but when and how. The flagship of the Philippine navy is a WWII American destroyer escort, which is very charitably referred to as a frigate. The Chinese Navy is more than willing to press its claims using its much larger navy.

    The incident in which the Philippine government “threw out” the American military presence is a very informative incident. Regardless of which government pushed the measure, the fact is that when American forces were told to leave, we left. I seriously doubt the Chinese military would be so magnanimous. It is also easy for us to focus on the actions of one particular Philippine administration and forget the fact that during WWII the people of the Philippines refused to side with the Japanese, despite Japanese pressure to do so. This speaks volumes about the Philippines’ national character even after so many years.

    We must be careful to proceed wisely and respectfully and not surrender the moral high ground. Yes, we do have the moral high ground. There is only one state in the region that would rather have Chinese warships plying the seaways rather than those of the US Navy, and that nation is China. The Philippines are a friend and ally, and they do not deserve to be subjected to Chinese hegemonic ambitions.

    If we act unwisely, then the Philippines and every other state in the region will see themselves caught between two international bullies, instead of standing with the United States against an expansionist bully.

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