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PHL says may benefit from any pivot to Asia by Biden administration

The Philippines may benefit if there is a renewed emphasis on Asia by the administration of US President Joe Biden, which could help act as a counterbalance to China in the region, Defence Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana said on Friday.

“Being one of America’s allies in the Indo-Asia Pacific region, the Philippines may benefit from the Biden administration’s anticipated pivot to Asia strategy,” Mr. Lorenzana said in a pre-recorded speech shown at an online forum organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.

A former US colony, the Philippines has long been a treaty ally of Washington, but ties have warmed with China and Russia since President Rodrigo R. Duterte took office in 2016 amid Beijing’s promises of billions of dollars of aid, loans, and investments.

The Philippines welcomed the prospect of a new era of relations with the United States, said Mr. Lorenzana, adding that the longstanding geopolitical rivalry between Washington and Beijing would continue to test the Philippines’ adeptness in balancing relations.

He said the Philippines must remain mindful of the role of the US “as the stabilizing force in the Indo-Pacific Region and a counterbalance to China.”

Maintaining a “stable international rules-based order” is in the best interest of all, Mr. Lorenzana said, adding that Manila would benefit from the US’ “pivot to Asia strategy” under the new administration.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that Washington stood with Southeast Asian nations resisting pressure from China, which claims 90% of the strategically important South China Sea.

China does not recognise a 2016 international arbitration decision invalidating its claims in the waterway, where there are overlapping claims with the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Taiwan.

After years of reclaiming land and building military strongholds in the South China Sea, China has passed a law allowing its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels, if necessary, to protect its claims. The Philippines has lodged a diplomatic protest against the legislation.

The move adds to tensions in the waterway after the United States sent a carrier group through the area to promote “freedom of the seas” last week, unnerving China.

“I’m afraid that we have to now be more circumspect in the way we handle our relationship with both countries. We don’t want to be caught in the middle,” said Philippine ambassador to Washington Jose Manuel Romualdez in the same forum.

“Meanwhile, we will continue to reach out to new personalities, both in the Executive and Legislative branches – in order to forge a good, or even better, relationship with our long-standing and only military ally. The US Congress is now led by Democrats but we have friends from both sides of the political spectrum, and overall, the bilateral relationship remains in good shape,” Mr. Romualdez said.

Mr. Romualdez said the alliance will “stay the course” and continue to be strengthened as the Philippines and the US remain committed to working together on a range of issues, including countering terrorism and ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific.

“True to his campaign promise of reviving US alliances and partnerships. It’s early days and we ought to give the new US President time to reach out to more of his counterparts,” he said.

“In a few days, the ASEAN Committee in Washington D.C. will have its first meeting with a key member of the Biden administration. We will be speaking with the White House’s Indo-Pacific Coordinator, Dr. Kurt Campbell, who some of you may know during his time as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs,” Mr. Romualdez said.

Mr. Campbell, in his writings, has stressed the importance for a balance of power and an “allied coalition” to address territorial disputes involving China. — Reuters, Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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