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Defense and economic cooperation go hand in hand

US PRESIDENT Joe Biden (right) with President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. before the bilateral meeting in White House in Washington DC on May 1, 2023. — PHILIPPINE STAR/KRIZ JOHN ROSALES

During these difficult times, when the rules-based international order is being challenged by states that are driven by a desire to dominate and bully their way into supremacy, our recourse is to maintain partnerships with allies that honor and respect the rule of law.

This is why we have always treasured our deep friendship with the United States. A Stratbase-commissioned Pulse Asia survey held in late 2022 revealed that the US is the country trusted by most Filipinos — 84%. It is followed by Japan and Australia.

President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. went on a working visit to the US from April 30 to May 4. He met with President Joseph Biden at the White House on May 1, where the latter affirmed their ironclad commitment to coming to the Philippines’ defense in the event of an armed attack against our armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Indo-Pacific, particularly in the West Philippine Sea.

President Biden said the two countries did not only have a strong partnership but a deep friendship.

The two leaders agreed to adopt Bilateral Defense Guidelines to deepen and expand operability across land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace with the US. The US committed to continue supporting the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Presidents Biden and Marcos reaffirmed the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and their support for the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Ukraine. They also said they looked forward to trilateral partnerships: one including Japan, and another including Australia.

But defense is just one area of cooperation between the Philippines and the US.

Economic cooperation is just as crucial and central to the decades-long partnership between the two countries. Economic partnership has a very real, very tangible effect on the lives of ordinary people. This most recent visit of President Marcos Jr. to the US yielded $1.3 billion in investment pledges that could translate into as many as 6,700 new jobs for Filipinos.

During their May 1 meeting, Marcos Jr. and Biden reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening their economic ties through the Presidential Trade and Investment Mission to the Philippines, to co-hosting the 2024 Indo-Pacific Business Forum in Manila, and to the US-Philippines Trade and Investment Framework.

There were other commitments: negotiating a US-Philippines civil nuclear cooperation agreement (123 agreement); cooperation on wind, solar, and geothermal energy; cooperation on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the waste, road, and shipping sectors; increased cooperation and knowledge sharing through the Science and Technology Agreement (STA); plans for the establishment of an Open-RAN (Radio Access Network) Interoperability Lab in Manila; and plans to convene the first bilateral Civil Space Dialogue this year.

President Marcos Jr. recognized that stepping up partnerships between Manila and Washington on digital infrastructure, food security, health, and clean energy has high potential for growth and provides the most benefits to both nations.

He highlighted that the advancement of Philippines-US common climate agenda, energy and green metals cooperation will be an important piece of engagement.

The Philippines, he said, is interested in becoming a strategic partner of the US in terms of metal processing for American battery application and development. Marcos Jr. said the Philippines is willing to work with the US government under its Inflation Reduction Act and help the sources of raw and processed materials for battery production and complement its “National Blueprint for Lithium Batteries.”

Marcos Jr. told US President Joe Biden that he sees the process as a “critical undertaking of technical cooperation” and possible US investments on the adoption of geographic information systems, remote sensing, and artificial intelligence in the baselining and change detection of terrestrial, coastal, and marine ecosystems.

During his trip, President Marcos Jr. also met with prominent US companies like Carnival Corp., Moderna, Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp., Atento, Maxeon, Analog Devices, Inc., and Optum. These companies pledged investment and employment opportunities for Filipinos.

President Marcos Jr. and First Lady Liza Marcos also met with US Vice-President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff and talked about cooperating in the areas of digital inclusion, clean energy economy, and security.

These developments show us that building a credible defense posture is fortified and made more impactful by economic cooperation. After all, expansionist moves are almost always driven by potential economic gain. Protecting our sovereignty and territorial integrity also means strengthening our economic capability to a level of robustness that can withstand possible disruptions from any source.

The economic aspect of the US-Philippine partnership is equally important and definitive. It looks at strengthening the economic advantages already enjoyed by the Philippines, building on these advantages, and opening up more opportunities that have not been explored before.

President Marcos Jr. always invokes the national interest as the sole determinant of our foreign policy. These gains made during his visit to the US indeed demonstrate that it is part of our national interest to align ourselves with friends who share the same values, principles, and commitment to the rules-based order.

Victor Andres “Dindo” C. Manhit is the president of the Stratbase ADR Institute.

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