The Asia Pacific Pathways Foundation Inc. and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung – Philippines conducted a Track Two Observer (TTO) webinar in July 2020 to assess the current challenges and opportunities confronting the Philippines in light of the shifts in regional security. Key changes were driven by the devastating impact of COVID-19, the waning influence of regional multilateral institutions, and the intensifying US-China competition. The centerpiece of the discussion revolved around the developments surrounding the “independent foreign policy” of the Duterte administration, specifically the abrupt postponement of the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the United States and the Philippines.

This memo outlines the challenges, opportunities, and recommendations that can be the basis for evaluating the trajectory of the independent foreign policy, given the influx of dramatic changes unfolding within and beyond the Philippines. Participants from government agencies and nongovernmental institutions examined the current foreign policy direction of the Duterte administration and its implications towards international defense engagements and the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Taiwan Gains Ground: Strategic Diplomacy through the New Southbound Policy

By Mark Bryan Manantan

Executive Summary

This paper examines how Taiwan uses its influence and integrates itself within the fabric of regional and international politics by means of strategic diplomacy exemplified by its New Southbound Policy (NSP). Understanding the limitations to its diplomatic maneuvering imposed by Beijing’s One China Policy and its growing influence through the Belt and Road Initiative, Taiwan is engaging with the Indo-Pacific region through specific and pragmatic areas of collaboration. From the lens of strategic diplomacy, this paper looks into how, through the NSP, Taiwan leverages its own strengths to achieve complementarity on “niche areas” among its target countries to foster new partnerships. This allows Taiwan to devise a strategic approach that permits greater policy influence in the changing geopolitical landscape.

In former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s recent article on COVID-19, he mused that “nations cohere and flourish on the belief that their institutions can foresee calamity, arrest its impact and restore stability.” More than a rush of blood to the head of anyone in power, this highlights the central role of politics in a disease as complicated and transcendental as this pandemic. Apart from being an epidemiologic phenomenon that has caused a global death toll that parallels, if not surpasses, that of previous plagues, COVID-19 exposes the powers of nations and their leaders. As of mid-May 2020, the total number of confirmed cases is at 4.8 million worldwide with around 318,000 deaths and 28,000 recoveries.

Prospects for Trilateral Cooperation: The Philippines, Australia, and Japan

By Mark Manantan

Executive Summary

The fragmentation of the regional multilateral architecture is currently unfolding. The instability is driven by the evolving behaviors of two great powers: China’s increasing assertiveness and the unpredictability of the United States’ (U.S.) engagement in the international system. Against this backdrop of geopolitical and geostrategic shifts, this paper advances the prospects of forming a trilateral cooperation between the Philippines, Australia, and Japan. It argues that the trilateral arrangement will facilitate an “intra-spoke cooperation” that will allow the three U.S. allies to pursue proactive roles in buttressing the regional multilateral scaffolding. Using the convergent security approach, it demonstrates how the three spokes can merge their existing bilateral cooperation into a trilateral linkage underpinned by their mutual interests: engaging China constructively, maintaining active U.S. engagement, and promoting an inclusive regional multilateral order.

This paper aims to make two significant contributions. First, it illustrates how to transform the spokes’ asymmetrical roles by harnessing their collective strength and emphasizing greater diplomatic and policy autonomy without undermining the centrality of the hub. Second, it advances the pragmatic realization of this proposed trilateral arrangement based on empirical evidence. It concludes that the merging of existing bilateral relationships into a more comprehensive trilateral cooperation will allow the spokes to conduct order-building initiatives. This will preserve and maintain the role of the regional multilateral framework as the neutral ground for dialogue and cooperation amid the ongoing great power contest.

To demonstrate the viability of the proposed trilateral linkage, the paper outlines key areas of policy collaboration within the context of reinforcing regional order-building initiatives.