Photo Source: South China Morning Post

A recent strategic dialogue between security sector experts and practitioners in the Philippines and Australia discussed prospects and sobering realities for cooperation and conflict-prevention amid great power rivalry. Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Steven Robinson’s keynote speech neatly summed up stark facts facing the Indo-Pacific: (a) geopolitical adjustments stemming from China’s rise, and (b) US policy mood that has shifted from engagement to strategic competition. 

The problem however lies in how we make sense of these realities. It has become popular for smaller powers to pursue “strategic autonomy”: non-aligned, cordial relations with both US and China pursued at the national level. However, I argue that strategic autonomy conceived as such is insufficient and leads to international bystanderism that makes the region susceptible to fallout from great power rivalry. Strategic autonomy may be better complemented by proactive brokerage by middle powers, clear articulation of common interests, and a degree of international coordination of national balancing strategies where possible. Discussions from the 2019 Philippines-Australia Dialogue are instructive in this regard.

Executive Summary

The heightened importance of maritime security issues, coupled with strategic competition between the major Indo-Pacific powers China and the United States, have turned the extensive maritime domain of Southeast Asia into an arena of great uncertainty. Here, various countries’ civilian and military maritime services navigate, operate, compete, and cooperate.

Complex politico-economic dynamics between the United States, the dominant power, and China, the emerging power, greatly affect the strategic positioning of other nations in the region. However, it is not only China’s thrust to gain operational superiority in the Pacific Ocean using its wide array of maritime agencies that is complicating the security environment; conditions such as the prevalence of transborder terrorist networks, and the geographical characteristic of the Indo-Pacific as the world’s most disaster-prone region, also play a role.

Partnership building offers the most pragmatic solution to the Philippines ever-increasing demand for resiliency in the cyber domain. It embraces cross-sectoral and cross-border collaboration in breaking down barriers to devise innovative cybersecurity approaches.

Photo Source: Pexels

A research paper written by Dr. Epictetus E. Patalinghug as a consultant for the Wallace Business Forum.