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Commentary: What the Philippines has at stake in US-China tensions over Taiwan

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As analysts have noted, the United States has limited munitions, raising the possibility that it would be required to cede the South China Sea in the early stages of a conflict with China. And a successful invasion would increase China’s power projection capabilities and weaken the ability of the United States to support its ally through an air and naval presence in the region.

PHILIPPINES HAS HIGHLY DESIRABLE REAL ESTATE FOR US FORCES

While the United States could have little hope that other Southeast Asian countries (except perhaps for Singapore) would give practical assistance in the event of a conflict, the Philippines will be in the spotlight.

A dearth of other viable regional options makes Luzon, the Philippines’ largest island, separated from Taiwan by the Luzon Strait, highly desirable real estate. Notably, some recent war games by US think tanks focused on how a conflict between the United States and China over Taiwan might unfold have assumed that US forces would have military access to bases in the Philippines.

Under much of the previous Duterte administration, such an assumption would have seemed overly optimistic. Rodrigo Duterte, who finished his five-year term earlier this year, rocked the foundations of the alliance from shortly after his election in 2016, when he announced the “separation” of the Philippines from the United States.

Worse, from February 2020 until July 2021, he threatened to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) which enables United States military personnel to operate in the Philippines.

Since July 2021, when Duterte finally announced he would not abrogate the VFA, US defence officials see the alliance on a “very strong trajectory”. The two sides are finally making progress in implementing the “Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement” (EDCA) which would improve facilities for US troops at agreed locations, enabling them to increase their rotational presence in the Philippines.



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