Blinken’s visit to Manila further disrupts S.China Sea’s peace and stability
Published: Mar 18, 2024 10:35 PM
Antony Blinken Photo:AFP

Antony Blinken Photo:AFP

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is heading to Manila on Monday following his brief trip to South Korea. He is expected to meet Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr on Tuesday, according local media reports. The visit is believed to pave the way for the upcoming trilateral summit between the Philippines, the US and Japan, some experts said, warning that Washington's use of Manila as a proxy to disrupt the South China Sea situation could bring regional strategic confrontation to an unprecedented level. 

Following his trip to Seoul where Blinken attended the third Summit for Democracy on Monday, the US senior diplomat will travel to Manila, a trip to affirm the US "unwavering commitment to the Philippine ally," according to media reports, citing a US State Department spokesperson. 

Maintaining the stability in the South China Sea to ensure unhampered global trade will be one of the key issues that will be discussed between Marcos Jr and Blinken, the Philippine Star reported on Monday. Local media also pointed out that the visit, which is Blinken's second visit to the Philippines since August 2022, comes amid "escalating tensions" between the Philippines and China over the South China Sea. 

The Philippines' continued provocation on the South China Sea issue by illegally trespassing waters off China's territory in the region and trying to mislead the international community on the issue. It also sought to challenge China's historic right. For instance, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on Sunday rejecting the Chinese foreign ministry's statement on Huangyan Dao.

"Blinken's visit to the Philippines this time is to lay the groundwork for the upcoming trilateral meeting between the US, Japan, and the Philippines," according to Chen Xiangmiao, director of the World Navy Research Center at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies. This visit is also aimed at negotiating and communicating to form some substantial outcomes for the upcoming meeting, including trilateral exercises and patrols, Chen told the Global Times on Monday. 

A trilateral summit between leaders of the Philippines, the US and Japan will reportedly be held in April, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will visit Washington as a state guest and hold bilateral talks with Biden on April 10, and Marcos Jr will have a meeting with them on April 11, according to media reports.

The main focus of cooperation between the US and the Philippines includes strengthening the US military presence in the Philippines, actively implementing new agreements reached between the two countries, a Beijing-based military expert who preferred not to be named told the Global Times on Monday. 

"Also, the US and the Philippines aim to enhance joint patrols in the South China Sea by naval and air forces, an important measure actively to be implemented. Its purpose is to continuously create more troubles in the South China Sea," the expert said. 

Blinken's trip to the Philippines follows the recent visit of the US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to the country, pledging over $1 billion of recently-completed or anticipated US investment, spanning areas of solar energy, digitization and electric vehicles. 

Meanwhile, in a recent interview, the Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez said the Philippines is seeking to increase reliance on the US to explore energy resources in the South China Sea.

The Philippines is seeking to leverage support from the US to continue to confront China at sea, initiating more unilateral actions, which means that the South China Sea factor between China and the Philippines will escalate further, and maritime confrontations will continue or even intensify, Chen noted. 

"On the other hand, the Philippines can leverage US support to bargain with China, which will also interfere with and impact the negotiation of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea," he said, noting that this will affect the consultation on maritime issues between China and the Philippines such as the smooth operation of the maritime hotline, and the progress of maritime cooperation.

Some experts also warned that for the US, it can use the Philippines as a base and proxy to disrupt the situation in the South China Sea, strengthen its military presence, which will also intensify geopolitical competition and power games, bringing the regional strategic confrontation to an unprecedented level since the end of the Cold War.