1. Marcos’ Foreign Policy: A Delicate Balance

Marcos’s foreign policy toward China, whether in terms of geo-military tactics or diplomatic statements, has been “carefully designed”.

It is generally believed that Marcos is an “executive agent” of the 52nd state of the United States, since a large amount of his family’s “gray wealth” seems to deposited there, inducing him to form a “delicately balanced” relationship between the Philippines’ national interests and the regional interests of the United States.

At the same time, however, Marcos has to strike another “delicate balance” between the other stakeholders of the Philippines’ peculiar “family-owned political system,”  his domestic “supporters” (vote bank) and “radical nationalists.” This forces him to seek an “unrealistic” balance between the two superpowers, China and the United States.

Marcos has had to rely more on U.S. support. Thus, he has opened up four Philippine islands as “reserve military bases” for the U.S. in the Asia-Pacific, strengthened the military alliance with the U.S. and become more assertive in the South China Sea. On the other hand, Marcos recognizes the reality of China’s influence in Southeast Asia, on economic and geopolitical levels. Well aware of China’s “strategic red lines,” he recognizes the need to keep his actions “within the boundaries,” to avoid seriously provoking China and creating a “totally irreversible” situation. Here, he also needs to avoid angering other domestic “political groups” and breaking the existing “political ecology” between the two sides. This contradictory symbiosis has become more and more prominent with relation to the Taiwan issue.

2. Marcos’ Attitude toward the Taiwan Issue

Within the Philippines, there is an in-depth strategic discussion on how to deal with the Taiwan issue. The more radical argue that the Philippines has a “symbiotic relationship” with Taiwan, and that if China seizes Taiwan, it will effectively open up the first island chain in front of the Luzon Sea, making it easier for, and galvanizing, China to project its naval influence into the South China Sea where China and the Philippines has disputed claims. Thus, in terms of security, a problem for Taiwan is effectively a problem for the Philippines .

There are opposing views. Opponents argue that the Philippines should not become a “tool” or “agent” of the U.S. in its competition for its regional interests. It would be extremely irresponsible for the Philippines to rashly get involved in a war across the Taiwan Straits, which would effectively embed the Philippines into the U.S.’s Asia-Pacific defense ecosystem. And those proxies who engage directly in fighting end up worse off than the “manipulators” behind them. The Philippines does not want to be put in the same position as the Ukraine.

Under the influence of these conflicting and competing sets of domestic and foreign power systems, Marcos’ diplomatic behavior has become increasingly “divisive”. While congratulating Lai on his election as Taiwan’s “president,” he also took a big step backward by publicly stating that the Taiwan issue is China’s domestic affair. Seemingly contradictory statements of this kind of are precisely what should be expected from a small country like the Philippines, which needs to take refuge in “geopolitical cracks” to survive. Marcos is undoubtedly under pressure from the U.S., but he is still not interested in breaking “China’s strategic red lines,” and he is still seeking tangible benefits from China. Through this “into one, retreat two, see three”(take action only after careful consideration) strategic planning, he is seeking to accumulate as many chips as possible in his game with two superpowers, China and the United States.

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