Why the Philippines Is Critical to the US Rebalance to Asia | The Diplomat
Later this month, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter will travel to the Philippines as part of a broader Asia trip. His upcoming visit highlights how the Southeast Asian state – long belittled as one of Asia’s weakest militaries and Washington’s laggard alliance – has in fact grown to become a critical part of America’s ongoing rebalance to the region.
Although the first pillar of the Obama administration’s rebalance to the Asia-Pacific is often cited as being strengthening ties with traditional allies as well as new partners, these newer partnerships – such as the one with Vietnam – have been grabbing the headlines more so than Washington’s two Southeast Asian alliances with Thailand and the Philippines. To a certain extent, this is to be expected: historic firsts are much more likely with new partnerships than they are with old alliances, and the U.S.-Thai and U.S.-Philippine alliances have both been underperforming of late due to a variety of reasons including domestic politics (See: “Exclusive: Managing the Strained U.S.-Thailand Alliance”).
Nonetheless, it is clear that through a series of steps over the last few years, the Philippines has emerged as what Carter in January termed “a central part” of the Obama administration’s rebalance, particularly in the security realm. In no small part due to China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, Manila has cemented itself as a key location for America’s military presence; an exemplar of partnering both with Washington as well as its regional allies like Japan and Australia; and an upholder of international principles in the maritime security domain. While it is unclear whether the Philippines’ role in these three dimensions – presence, partnering and principles – will endure, its efforts under President Benigno Aquino II still deserve to be acknowledged and appreciated.
First, the Philippines has cemented itself as a key location for America’s military presence in the region. To be sure, despite the oft-cited American withdrawal from bases in 1992 following a razor-thin Senate vote, close observers of U.S.-Philippine defense ties know that the United States had still enjoyed significant access to Philippine facilities, including port calls to Subic Bay, a former naval base. But the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), inked in April 2014 and upheld by the Supreme Court in January, is undoubtedly a significant boost for Washington on that score.