Relation between the Philippines and China is one of Asia’s most volatile. Not only is Manila one of the most forward-leaning claimants in the disputed South China Sea, but it is also the longest-tenured ally of the United States in Asia. As US-China rivalry intensifies with action-reaction dynamics manifesting in such regional flashpoints as the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, alliance threat perception of China grows. This makes for traditionally uneasy ties with its big northern neighbor. As such, the rapprochement with Beijing pursued by the Duterte administration, despite persistent challenges, earned both tributes and critiques.

The rise of China and the response to it is shaping global geopolitics.These and the Philippines’ own growing economic capacity and security concerns drive the evolution of bilateral relations. Improved ties in the last five years delivered economic gains, but security concerns persist. Going forward, Manila faces three critical policy dilemmas. The first is how to expand economic ties with China as what its other Southeast Asian neighbors are doing without becoming too beholden to Beijing. The second dilemma, related to the first, is how to deny China the use of economic leverage to diminish the country’s diplomatic legroom. The third is striking a balance between pursuing friendly ties with China to temper its behavior in the South China Sea and keeping deterrence and alliances to check potential expansionist ambitions in the contested sea.

The Indo-Pacific is evolving and has become “the power center of world geopolitics.” The region is responsible for two-thirds of global economic growth and has three of the world’s four largest economies – China, Japan, and India. Likewise, Southeast Asia, which is at the heart of the Indo-Pacific, has more than half a billion people and boasts among the world’s fastest-growing economies. The vast region is thus central to the global value chain, international trade, and investment flows - 40% of global trade passes through the Strait of Malacca and 30% through the South China Sea (SCS). At the same time, current dynamics in the Indo-Pacific featured tensions over contested territories and waters and rising geopolitical rivalries which have spilled over the economic, political, and security areas. Therefore, in light of these new realities, the European Union (EU) was compelled to reassess its engagement strategy towards the region.

On 16 September 2021, the Council of the European Union published the EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. It marked the beginning of the EU’s new approach to the region, diversifying its relations beyond traditional regional partners like China, Japan, and members of the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to include India, Australia, South Korea, Taiwan, and other “like-minded“states.

On February 1, 2021, the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, arrested members of the country’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, as well as other democratically elected officials. By the next day, the Tatmadaw announced the creation of the State Administrative Council, taking over all functions of government, and named Senior General Min Aung Hlaing as Chairman. Months later, and after the shuttle diplomacy efforts of Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, the ASEAN Secretariat hosted an emergency summit with leaders and representatives of ASEAN member states and General Hlaing to address the situation in Myanmar. The summit resulted in the Five-Point Consensus, which is still awaiting implementation.

With former President Donald Trump’s inward-focused approach, the United States left international organizations at the sideline of its foreign policy in the last four years. Meanwhile, China embraced multilateralism - going all-out to emphasize its importance and underscoring the principles that govern international organizations. But with the new team in the White House bent in reclaiming America’s place in the world, in what ways can China manage to keep up?