Trilateral Militarisation in Southeast Asia: Bringing Vietnamese Counterinsurgency Operations to the Philippines and the South China Sea

By Dan Steinbock
Trilateral militarisation between the US, Japan and the Philippines has begun, starting with maritime counterinsurgency, missiles and
nuclearisation. In the coming years, it will penalise development and unleash extraordinary uncertainty in the Philippines and Southeast Asia.

In mid-April, President Biden hosted a trilateral summit in Washington, DC, at the time of “surging tension in the South China Sea,” as Western media likes to put it.
These tensions are habitually attributed to “assertive China” or “Chinese aggression.” It’s an elaborate liturgy designed for the faithful. And like all jargon, it reflects a gap between the rhetoric and realities.

In their summit, Biden, the Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and the Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr began to broaden trilateral cooperation. It precipitated the maritime exercises of the three plus Australia, and the US-Philippine large-scale military exercises, which will be “bigger than ever before.”
In the past, perceptive Filipino observers have expressed increasing concern that, due to the Marcos Jr government’s excessive embrace of Washington’s militarisation in the region, the country will be dragged into a major power conflict on Taiwan.


In the past, perceptive Filipino observers have expressed increasing concern that, due to the Marcos Jr government’s excessive embrace of Washington’s militarisation in the region, the country will be dragged into a major power conflict on Taiwan. In retrospect, these voices may have been too optimistic. In the absence of a major policy recalibration in Manila, the Philippines seems eager to sleepwalk into a major geopolitical minefield before Taiwan.

From Washington’s perspective, such collaboration serves a function. It is designed to weaken China prior to a potential Taiwan crisis. Tokyo shares the view. Oddly enough, the Philippines is set to bear most risks and losses, yet it is not entirely clear how it will benefit from the new trajectory. The consequent unease is reflected in the Filippino electorate, whose trust in their major political leaders is dwindling.
April 22, 2024 [1]

Whatever happened to diplomacy?

The South China Sea (SCS) tensions peaked at the end of March when President Marcos Jr. pledged to mount a “proportionate, deliberate and reasonable” response to the “unabating, and illegal, coercive, aggressive and dangerous attacks” by the China Coast Guard and the Chinese Maritime Militia in the SCS. Reportedly, the Philippines National Security Council said the president would rescind whatever SCS agreement China may have reached with former president Rodrigo Duterte.
That same day, China’s Defense Ministry spokesperson Wu Qian stated that it was the Philippines’ harassment and provocations that were the direct cause of the SCS
escalation. Counting on the support of external forces, the Philippines had infringed upon China’s sovereignty and violated international law and the spirit of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the SCS, Wu said. Reportedly, the Philippine government had ignored several concept papers China submitted almost a year ago proposing ways to normalise the situation in disputed areas of the SCS.
What’s behind this progressive escalation? Here’s the bottom line: The policy stances on the SCS issues by Manila and Beijing have not changed. But the way these stances are promoted overtly (and covertly) has – due to Manila’s new tactic.
The opposing stands remain what they were during the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte (2016-2022). In his era, the Philippines foreign policy was recalibrated to benefit from cooperation with both the US and China, not just one or the other. At the same time, Beijing and Manila agreed to disagree on the divisive SCS issues, which became subject to pragmatic long-term negotiations. Instead of friction, the two fostered long-term talks in anticipation of the code of conduct on the SCS between the Association of the Southeast Nations (ASEAN) and China. Chinese tourists flocked to the Philippines. Chinese trade and investment in the
country soared. Diplomacy ensured focus on economic development, which remains very much in the interest of the region.During his electoral campaign in 2021-2022, Marcos still pledged he would build on Duterte’s legacy. But after the election, those vows turned upside down. Instead of neutrality, increasing integration with the ASEAN, security cooperation with the US and economic development with China, the Marcos government drastically intensified, broadened and deepened US ties and granted Pentagon access to several new base locations. China was shut out. Last year, former president Duterte still sought to bridge the bilateral divides directly with China’s President Xi Jinping (Figure 1).

Figure 1: President Marcos Jr and Former President Duterte


President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. met with former President Rodrigo Duterte at the Malacañan Palace where they discussed the latter’s recent meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing (PMO, Aug 2, 2023) Image from Wikimedia Commons


However, due to the escalation, personal ties can no longer offset the consequent “geopolitical mess,” as Duterte recently described Manila’s drift. He also warned in

Chinese media that “the US is trying to provoke a war between China and the Philippines,” expressing his hope that the Philippines can change course to “resolve issues through dialogue and negotiation.[5]

Nonetheless, the Marcos Jr government has accelerated military collaboration with the US. Concurrently, aspiring Chinese tourists were blocked by a cumbersome visa process, which virtually ensured minimal inflows, while Chinese investment lingered in Manila’s state bureaucracies. Trade survived the worst, but it is likely to face great challenges in coming years.


In the SCS, the past cooperative approach was replaced with the tactic of “assertive transparency”; that is, “publicizing the aggressive aggressions of China.”[6] In Washington, the tactic is portrayed as Manila’s response to counter China. Yet, the architects of the policy are linked with the US Department of Defense.

Instead of just a narrow information war of “naming and shaming,” the tactic involves broad counterinsurgency operations. The proponents seek to Vietnamise the SCS friction.


Vietnamising the SCS friction


After graduating from Columbia University and a brief internship in the Center for Irregular Warfare and Armed Groups, the young policy wonk Hunter Stires found a job at the US Naval War College.[7] He was conducting stuffy archival research for maritime history professor John B. Hattendorf. The proponent of US sea power and doyen of US naval educators, Hattendorf had served as a naval officer during the Vietnam War, battles with the Viet Cong and stays in Subic Bay, Philippines, and Taiwan.[8]

When Hattendorf retired in 2016, Stires had absorbed his lessons and moved to the US Naval War College where he claims to have created the strategic concept of “maritime insurgency/counterinsurgency” (Maritime COIN). Essentially, his goal was to reframe the Chinese challenge in the SCS and reorient the US strategy to defeat it (Figure 2).

Figure 2: US Naval Institute’s Maritime COIN Project


In Spring 2019 Stires wrote an essay, “The South China Sea Needs a ‘COIN’ Toss” in which he argued that the past US approach to countering China in the SCS had failed. US Navy’s “freedom of navigation” operations had not managed to neutralise what he termed, using not-so-academic language but jargon typical to the Naval War College,China’s “cancerous expansion.”[9]

Stires was championing deterrence by a denial strategy in which the ultimate goal for the US was to contain China in the SCS. US Navy, he said, would have to avoid “the inherent economic and political costs of large, protracted foreign deployments, as well as numerical constraints faced by the US Navy’s major combatant fleet.” In brief, US Navy needed more bang for its buck, while diversifying risks to the host country, the Philippines. With risks inflated, Stires seems to have presumed, they might join the Ukrainians fighting to the last Filippino.

What the US needed, Stires claimed, was “a maritime counterinsurgency campaign to find opportunities for economies of force.” As he put it: If the strategic problem in the South China Sea is a Chinese insurgency, it logically follows that the U.S. and allied strategic solution should be counterinsurgency.[10]

Intriguingly, Stires compared Beijing’s efforts in the SCS with the Viet Cong’s activities against the rural civilian populations in South Vietnam arguing that “large numbers of small US units brigaded with allied forces can produce disproportionate outcomes.” Hence, his promotion of the Vietnam-era Combined Action Program (CAP).

From 1965 to 1971, among nearly half a million civilians across 800 settlements, the CAP at its height involved only 2,200 Marines, just 2.8% of the 80,000 Marines in Vietnam. But the combined force fielded 20,000 troops. In Stires’s view, the CAP was “cost-effective and sustainable” because it “resulted in disproportionately more enemy forces killed in action and significantly higher degrees of civilian population security, achieved at half the US casualty rate of Army and Marine Corps units engaged in large-scale combat.”[11]

Offering an alternative to big and broad military campaigns, the CAP platoons would patrol in villages and hamlets full-time to degrade the insurgents’ capabilities. In the South China Sea, the trick was to convert the rural anti-guerrilla tactic into maritime counter-insurgency and bring the CAPs to the Philippines and the SCS.


Vietnam and Philippine Insurrection déjà vu


In Stires’s odd comparison, President Marcos Jr is the contemporary equivalent of South Vietnam’s Nguyen Van Thieu who got into power after a rigged election and was defeated by Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Cong. The bigger lesson – the massive human and economic, particularly civilian losses caused by the CAP and other doctrines, and the US defeat in Vietnam – is simply ignored.

At the end of the Vietnam War, the number of total deaths amounted to almost 1.4 million people, of which almost 80 percent were Vietnamese combatants and civilians. [12] Most of the Vietnamese economy and infrastructure were devastated. US Air Force also deployed toxic herbicides, including Agent Orange, destroying much of the oncelush territory in the course of the ecocide.[13]

To Stires, the Philippines is South Vietnam’s maritime reincarnation. [14] Ironically, he builds his maritime counterinsurgency idea on the suppression of the Philippines. The CAP experiences promoted by Stires originated at least partially from Marine “pacification programs” (read: violent subjugation) in Haiti, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere during the Banana Wars in the late 19th and early 20th century. More recent operations include those in Iraq and Afghanistan.[15]

There are also links to other pacification programmes, such as what the US historians call the “Philippine Insurrection” (1899-1903) when the US conquered the country eventually engaging in massacres during the Moro Rebellion (1899-1913) (Figure 3). Not forgetting the scorched earth campaigns and forcible relocations of civilians to concentration camps in which thousands perished, as America eventually replaced Spain as the colonial power. On the Philippine side, the war led to at least 200,000 civilian deaths, although some estimates put civilian deaths up to a million.[16]


Figure 3: The 1906 Moro Massacre


In the Bud Dajo massacre, US military bombed the stronghold killing over 600 men, women and children. In one of the military operations conducted against the Moros, US soldiers pose for the camera in the aftermath of the massacre. Image from from Wikimedia Commons


In January, the US Navy hired Stires to serve as “maritime strategist” for the Secretary of the Navy. To him, the Philippines and the SCS are South Vietnam’s maritime reincarnation. Ironically, the maritime counterinsurgency idea rests in part on the US counterinsurgency doctrine deployed in the lethal conquest of the Philippines.


US Navy, Big Defense, and think tanks


But tactical doctrines are one thing, actionable military campaigns another. What ensued was the controversial Project Myoushu, a derivative of the US Naval Institute’s Maritime Counterinsurgency (COIN) Project. Myoushu “seeks to develop more effective tools to shine a light into the gray zone of China’s maritime coercion strategy in the South China Sea.”[17] Presumably, naming and shaming, it is tailored to counter China in the SCS. Myoushu is one of the core projects of SeaLight, an initiative by Stanford University’s Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation (GKC).

The GKC was created in the fall of 2021, in parallel with the Philippine presidential rivalry. It was sponsored by the US Office of Naval Research (ONR), which has had a central role in naval military operations since 1946 and reports directly to the Secretary of the Navy. The GKC’s resources originate from US government agencies, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and its Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI).

The CSIS is a major US think-tank, funded by government agencies, the Pentagon, Big Defense, banking behemoths and energy giants. AMTI is an arm of CSIS, a sort of high-tech intelligence assembler supporting US interests in maritime Asia. In the Philippines, it has cooperated with Stratbase ADR Institute, the think-tank of the late foreign minister Alberto del Rosario, a wealthy businessman whose geopolitical interests converged with his private sector ventures. In turn, ADRi is linked with BowerGroup Asia, headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, west of Washington, DC. While the Chamber has its connections with Taiwan, Rosario had his personal economic stakes in the SCS’s untapped energy resources.[18]

Located at Stanford in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley, the GKC mandate is to support the US “in the great power competition,” says Joe Felter, one of its founders. [19] An ex-Special Forces officer, Felter has served as US deputy assistant defense secretary for South and Southeast Asia, and Oceania. His combat deployments include Iraq and Afghanistan, where he reported directly to Generals Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus.[20]

In the Philippines, the US Naval Institute’s Maritime COIN Project entered the headlines in December 2023. That’s when the Atin Ito Coalition proposed a Christmas convoy to the BRP Sierra Madre in the contested Second Thomas Shoal, known as Ayungin Shoal in the Philippines.

The secretive Atin Ito’s lead convenor was Rafaela David, who promoted still another “gift-giving caravan” in early March.[21] David has headed the Center for Youth Advocacy and Networking (CYAN), which is funded by the US-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED), known for its penchant for regime change.[22] Described as “civil society organizations,” these groups are not representative of ordinary hardworking Filipinos. Another “co-convenor” of Kalayaan Atin Ito (KAI), Vera Joy Ban-eg has served as the self-proclaimed “guardian of the volunteers.”  Oddly enough, she was recently suspended by the Supreme Court from practice for a year after failing to pay a businessman the amount she invested in gold trading.[23]


Ukrainian blueprint déjà vu


Almost in parallel, del Rosario’s Stratbase ADR Institute launched a new report, The Gamechanger: The Philippines’ Assertive Transparency Campaign, in which Raymond Powell and Benjamin Goirigolzarri purported to explain “how the Philippines rewrote the counter grayzone playbook in 2023.”[24] The two presented “assertive transparency” that had long been cultivated by the Pentagon and the US naval interests as Manila‘s tactic.

Powell served in the Philippines decades ago, had combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and ended a 35-year career in the US Air Force in 2021. Both represent the US Air Force. Colonel Powell is the director of the GKC’s Sealight initiative and Goirigolzarri its analyst.[25]

At the core, assertive transparency… shows how the gray zone aggressor can be lodged in a state of embarrassment in the international scene but also aims to deter or defeat the aggressor. To increase its success, the counter-gray zone approach should include strengthening national resilience, building international support, and imposing reputational costs on the gray zone actor.[26]

In other words, strengthen the Philippines to prioritise support for the gray zone contest. Second, build international support to increase its leverage against China.

Lastly, impose reputational costs against Beijing. It is the Ukrainian blueprint déjà vu: Make them buy more arms, seek support from other Western allies and demonise the adversary.

In brief, the doctrine of assertive transparency is a part of a broader maritime counterinsurgency campaign, seeking to contribute to China’s containment in the South China Sea. It has been developed and refined by high-level senior officers and major think tanks in the US Defense Department (Figure 4).


Figure 4: Behind the “assertive transparency” doctrine



In the Philippines, the use of the “assertive transparency” doctrine has been paralleled by the plummeting of the approval ratings of President Marcos and other government leaders, due to growing Filipino concerns regarding issues like inflation, corruption and perceived weak leadership.[27] In such circumstances, SCS tensions are a convenient distraction away from Filipino bread-and-butter issues.


Prior to Biden’s trilateral summit, international media was flooded by an orchestrated messaging machinery aiming to portray the trilateral rearmament as peace-building and China as a massive threat to the trilateral alliance and the world at large. The purpose of the maritime counter-insurgency campaign has been to escalate the South China Sea friction, to justify trilateral militarisation.


It is a prelude to the ongoing massive rearmament drive that has the potential to split Southeast Asia and bury the Asian Century. In the short term, that drive is marked by missiles. In the medium- to long-term by nuclearisation.


Nuclearisation via QUAD and AUKUS


In March 2023, US President Joe Biden held a press conference on the AUKUS partnership with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego, California. During the conference, the nuclear-powered USS Missouri submarine was visibly in the background, by design. It was a signal to China (Figure 5).


Figure 5: The Trilateral AUKUS partnership


Ironically, the net effect is the rising nuclearisation of the South China Sea by countries that are not located in the ASEAN territories. The US-led multilateral security framework that’s targeting China rests on the QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) between the US, Japan, Australia and India. Although both are cooperative bodies oriented around security, the QUAD is a loose form of security dialogue, whereas AUKUS aims for much stronger military cooperation, including the sharing of advanced military technologies such as nuclear-powered submarines.

AUKUS seeks to hem in China’s moves with a nested military network, including sharing advanced military technologies such as nuclear-powered submarines. The first subs will be built in the UK by the late 2030s and in Australia after 2040.

In the interest of time, the US plans to forward-deploy Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines, coupled with the UK’s similar Astute-class subs, to a naval base near Perth in Western Australia, already by 2027. AUKUS is also likely to expand in 2024 or early 2025. Japan and Canada are in line to join the so-called pillar 2 section of the AUKUS agreement, while the US is courting South Korea and New Zealand. The agreement’s first part, pillar 1 involves the US and UK helping Australia build nuclear-powered submarines. Pillar 2 allows the three to develop advanced military technology.

From the Chinese viewpoint, the US is expanding the AUKUS military alliance by “forming a mini-NATO in Asia,which poses unprecedented threats and challenges to the region’s prosperity and stability.”

But nuclearisation takes time. The Pentagon and Big Defense want to move faster. Hence, the missiles.


Missiles and Militarisation


As veteran political analyst Francisco Tatad writes, “Marcos sees China as the source of the danger, but he does not say why our two countries should be going to war with each other over some pieces of stone in the vast disputed sea.” Tatad asks, “Whose war must we prepare for?”[31]

While the question of “whose war” remains blurry, the question of “how” it could begin is fairly clear. Thanks to the 2019 expiration of the previously banned Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the US is planning to deploy ground-based intermediaterange missiles in the Indo-Pacific already in 2024, thus establishing its first arsenal in the region since the end of the Cold War.

Originally developed by the huge US defense contractor Raytheon which has played a vital role in Ukraine, these missiles feature land-based versions of the Standard

Missile-6 (SM-6) and the Tomahawk cruise missile, with ranges between 500 and 2,700 kilometers (Figure 6). Tomahawks in particular have been used from the Gulf War to Iraq, Syria and Yemen.


Figure 6: Missiles over the South China Sea?


The Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) launches a Standard

Missile-6 (SM-6) during a live-fire test of the ship’s aegis weapons system (Pacific Ocean, June 19, 2014) Image from Wikimedia Commons


Reportedly, the US Army will send the intermediate-range missile units primarily to the US territory of Guam, looking for more forward deployment to Asian allies in a contingency. But allies, like the Philippines, are likely expected to be open to

“rotational deployments in crises.” Responding to a crisis in the Taiwan Strait or South China Sea will require missiles that can reach targets in those critical waterways or the Chinese mainland. This means an extended deployment near the “first island chain,” which stretches from Japan’s Okinawa islands to Taiwan and, yes, the Philippines.[32]

After the withdrawal of US military bases from the Philippines in the early 1990s, Guam has become a strategically critical location for US military operations. Until recently, Japan and the Philippines were reluctant to host new American capabilities, to avoid becoming an immediate target of the Chinese military in a crisis. Designed to change these realities on the ground, the doctrine of assertive transparency has served to legitimise mobilisation for war in the name of peace.


In January 2024, Stires was appointed Maritime Strategist to the Secretary of the Navy. His focus is now on maritime statecraft, competition and priorities like rearming the Vertical Launch Systems (VLS) at sea. Installed on a nuclear-powered submarine, it allows a greater number and variety of weapons to be deployed offensively.[33] Reportedly, Secretary of Navy Carlos Del Toro is eyeing this rearm-atsea capability as a critical step to prepare for conflict in the Pacific. Today, the Navy’s cruisers and destroyers can only load and unload offices at established piers with approved infrastructure. For the Pacific fleet, these reload sites are in Japan, Guam, Hawaii and California.[34]

Perhaps that’s one of the attractions of the Philippines as a logistics hub in the IndoPacific.


Pre-Marcos steps to Militarisation


The US Naval Department’s involvement seems to have intensified since the mid2010s when the late foreign secretary Albert F. del Rosario had a key role in building the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). It was the EDCA that opened the Philippines to US military, ships, and planes; for the first time since 1991.

A year later, Rosario met Obama’s then-deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Manila, aiming at bigger bilateral commitments (Figure 7).[35]


Figure 7: Toward deeper Military Alignments


(Left) Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario and US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Manila in 2015.

(Center) Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. receives US INDOPACOM Commander Admiral John C. Aquilino, in 2021.

(Right) Gen. Romeo Brawner, Jr., Philippines Armed Forces Chief of Staff and Adm. Aquilino, in Manila in March 2024 Image from DFA, DFA-OPCD


President Duterte’s electoral triumph in 2016 caused a six-year breather in these ambitious plans. Militarisation accelerated in August 2021, when Admiral John C.

Aquilino, Commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM), met Foreign Secretary Locsin, Jr. During that visit, Aquilino welcomed bilateral progress as “a huge leap forward,” while a US press release described the ties as an “alliance.”[36]


Aquilino’s calls matter. The INDOPACOM is the largest of six geographic combatant commands of the US Armed Forces. It is responsible for all US military activities in the Indo-Pacific region. But nothing was set in stone, yet. President Marcos Jr had pledged to build on Duterte’s legacy and nurture strong ties with both the US and China, like most ASEAN nations.[37] But obviously, these pledges had to go. They were misaligned with Big Defense’s plans for Manila. Peace is not good for military business.


In October 2022, Senator Imee Marcos, chair of the Philippine foreign relations committee, still pled in Washington: “Do not make us choose between the United States and China.” While affirming the strong bilateral alliance, she said the latter should not inhibit expanded engagement with China through confidence-building measures, joint development, and finalising a code of conduct in South China.[38] Prior to the address, her younger brother, President Marcos, had met President Biden and discussed “the full breadth of issues in the alliance.” Subsequently, all his major electoral pledges turned upside down. Trilateral mobilisation became an inflated response to a deflated problem. As columnist Rigoberto Tiglao wondered why the Philippines should go to war with China, its biggest trading partner, over a dispute that “is solely over Ayungin Shoal, a permanently submerged, useless small area.”[39]

Even the Philippines Congress has been oddly numb about the tectonic foreign policy shift, despite its likely adverse and huge economic and geopolitical implications.


More Bases, More Targets


By February 2023, President Marcos Jr. granted US Forces access to four new bases, in addition to five existing bases included under the expanded Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). The controversial decision was opposed vehemently by several provinces and municipalities in the target areas. But once again, these concerns were quickly suppressed as anti-patriotic.


In a fall 2023 Senate hearing, Senator Robinhood Padilla did question the presence of a US Navy Poseidon aircraft circling overhead during the resupply mission, as the US naval presence unnecessarily caused an escalation between China and the Philippines. [40] Instead of welcoming Padilla’s valid skepticism as an opening for a democratic debate on the foreign policy U-turn, questions were hush-hushed away.


At the time, Adm. Aquilino returned to the Philippines to discuss “opportunities for increased multilateral cooperation, maritime security initiatives, and the upcoming exercise Balikatan.” The US has added 63 projects for the EDCA sites on top of the previously-approved 32. These projects included multipurpose storage facilities, road networks and fuel storage, “among others.” Although the US officially has only “rotational access” to the Philippines bases, it has already allocated over $109 million towards infrastructure improvements at some seven EDCA locations. Aquilino did not specify the purpose of the expanded military infrastructure.[41]


Presumably, the Philippines is to serve as a logistical platform in order to tie China in the South China Sea (SCS) before a potential Taiwan crisis. But more is needed. Aquilino sought access to still more bases. Unsurprisingly, both sides preferred backroom talks to open public debate.”[42]


Recently, President Marcos Jr. said that the Philippines is not inclined to give the United States access to more Philippine military bases under the EDCA. He insisted the additional installations would not be used for offensive action “unless there is an attack against the Philippines” and that they would be used mainly to boost the disaster response of the country.[43]


By then, few Filipinos took the statement at face value anymore.

Manila, Ukraine and those “iron-clad ties”

The proponents of trilateral militarisation portray it as a pillar of “peace and stability” in Southeast Asia. But they live in a parallel universe. Most ASEAN nations have been diplomatic yet critical of Manila’s recent moves. They argue that militarisation precipitates friction and instability in the region. Dark precedents extend from Afghanistan and Iraq to Ukraine and Gaza.

As Singapore’s foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan said during his recent visit to

Manila: “[Escalation in SCS] will increase insurance premiums. It will certainly have an inflationary impact on our economies and it will dampen confidence in what in fact should be multiple decades of growth and progress that we all expect and that our people need in order for us to achieve the economic transformation and the expansion in jobs.”[44]

As America’s “major non-NATO partners,” both Manila and Kyiv share “iron-clad ties” with the US. But the track record of such ties is not inspiring. When Ukraine opted for US military cooperation, its thriving development initiatives with China were quickly torpedoed. Today, the Ukrainian economy is devastated, a generation of soldiers has perished and millions of Ukrainians have been displaced and left the country.[45]

Worse, the consequent massive rearmament has the potential to split Southeast Asia and bury the Asian Century. In this effort of friction, division and decline, the Philippines is now the key actor and one that carries the greatest risks.

“What’s in this for us?” ask the Filipinos who voted for peace but who now live at the edge of a geopolitical minefield.


About the Author


Dr Dan Steinbock is an internationally recognised strategist of the multipolar world and the founder of Difference Group. He has served at the India, China and America Institute (USA), Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (China) and the EU Center (Singapore). For more, see


1.   “Approval, Trust Ratings of Government Officials, Institutions Dips Further – PAHAYAG Survey.” Publicus Asia, Apr 2.

2.   “’BBM vows response to Chinese bullying’.” The Manila Times, Mar, 29.

3.   “China condemns Philippines’ trick of ‘playing victim’.”  Global Times, Mar 28. 2024.

4.   “Chinese official: PH ignored China’s proposals on sea row.” The Manila Times, Mar 11, 2024.

5.   Hu Yuwei et al. 2024. “GT exclusive: Former Philippine president Duterte warns Manila to turn back from detrimental path, resolve disputes through dialogue.” Global Times, Apr 12.

6.   Dela Cruz, Raymond Carl. 2024.” PH to sustain transparency in WPS ops.” Philippine News Agency, Feb 13.

7.   On Stires’s background, see

8. Retrieved on Mar 31, 2024.

9.   Stires, Hunter. 2019. “The South China Sea Needs a ‘COIN’ Toss.” Proceedings, US Naval Institute, Vol 145/5, May, see

10.  Ibid.

11.  Ibid.

12.  Lewy, Guenter. 1978. America in Vietnam. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 442-453.

13.  Chiarini, Giovanni. 2022. Ecocide: From the Vietnam War to International Criminal Jurisdiction? Procedural Issues In-Between Environmental Science, Climate Change, and Law. Cork Online Law Review, Apr 13.

14.  Ibid.

15.  Goodale and Webre 2008, op. cit.

16.  Agoncillo, Teodoro A. 1960. History of the Filipino People (Eighth ed.). Quezon City: Garotech 1990, pp. 247-297; Foner, Philip Sheldon. 1972. The Spanish-Cuban-American War and the Birth of American Imperialism. Monthly Review Press, 2022; Wolff, Leon. 1961. Little Brown Brother: How the United States Purchased and Pacified the Philippine Islands at the Century’s Turn. New York: Doubleday.

17.  See

18.  Steinbock, Dan. 2019. “Public Agendas and Private Interests in South China Sea.” Apr. 11. On the Taiwan links, see Steinbock, Dan. 2019. “The Privatization of US Indo-Pacific Vision: Project 2049, Armitage, Budget Ploys and Taiwan Nexus”. China-US Focus, Ju. 8.

19.  Duffie, Warren Jr. 2021. “Unraveling ‘Knotty’ Problems: ONR Helps Launch New Academic Center for National Security Innovation.” ONR, Dec 6. See

20.  For Felter’s bio, see

21.  “’Atin Ito’ eyeing gift-giving caravan in Scarborough Shoal anew.” Philippine Inquirer, Mar 5, 2024.

22.  On David and CYAN, see On the CYAN funding by NED, see

23.  “SC suspends lawyer for 1 year over gold trading scam.” The Manila Times, Aug.  17, 2021. See also “Government hit for preventing ‘Freedom Voyage’ to Kalayaan Islands.” The Philippine Star, Dec 19, 2015.

24.  Col Raymond M. Powell and US Air Force (ret) Benjamin Goirigolzarri. 2024. Game Changer: The Philippine Assertive Transparency Campaign. Stratbase ADR Institute, Jan.

25.  On Powell, see Stanford University:

26.  Powell and Goirigolzarri, op. cit.

27.  “Marcos, Duterte ratings plummet.” The Manila Times, Apr 3.

28.  “AUKUS puts South China Sea in reach of submarines, prompts debate over nuclear proliferation.” Hankyoreh [South Korea] Apr 5, 2023.

29.  Boscia, Stefan. 2024. “Britain and US race to expand Pacific defense pact before election turmoil.” Politico EU, Mar. 19.

30.  Zhang Yuing. 2024. “AUKUS likely to see membership expansion, ‘poses threats to regional stability’.” Global Times, Mar 21.

31.  Tatad, Francisco S. 2024. “Whose war must we prepare for?” The Manila Times, Mar 15.

32.  Nakamura, Roy et al. 2023. “U.S. to deploy new ground-based missiles to Indo-Pacific in 2024.” Nikkei Asia, Dec 3.

33.  “SECNAV Hires Maritime Strategist for Statecraft, At-Sea VLS Reloads.” Defense Daily, Jan 18, 2024. 34. “US Navy prioritizes ‘game-changing’ rearming capability for ships.” Defense News, Mar 28, 2023

35.  Steinbock, Dan. 2022. “Philippine 2022 Election amid U.S. Cold War against China.” China-US Focus, Nov. 29.

36.  “Indo-Pacific commander: US military to seek access to more Philippine bases.” Radio Free Asia News, Sep 14, 2023.

37.  Steinbock, Dab. 2022. “Philippine election offers opportunity to rethink the liberal narrative.” South China Morning Post, Apr 28.

38.  “Imee Marcos: Do not make us choose between US and China.” GMA News, Oct 2, 2022.

39.  Tiglao, Rigoberto D. 2024. “PH-China dispute really easily resolved if…” The Manila Times, Apr 5.

40.  Tatad, Francisco S. 2023. “Sen. Robinhood Padilla should lecture his peers, not the reverse.” The Manila Times, Nov 6.

41.  Statement of Admiral John C. Aquilino, US Navy Commander, US Indo-Pacific Command. US IndoPacific Command Posture. US Senate Committee of Armed Services, Mar 20, 2024.

42.  Ibid

43.  “Marcos rules out new bases for US.” The Manila Times, Apr. 16.

44.  “Singapore foreign minister warns SCS tension to dampen ASEAN economic takeoff.” The Manila Times, Apr 16.

45.  Steinbock, Dan. 2023. “The Unwarranted Ukraine Proxy War: A Year Later.” The World Financial Review, Jan.