Navigating the turbulent waters of SCS and Taiwan Strait issues

ON the most recent episode of “Kapihan ni Tatay” with host Mr. Ernie Abella last Thursday (March 7, 2024), we delved into a pressing concern: the potential threats facing our country, and we beg the question — are we in danger? Central to our conversation was the intricate balancing act, navigating the Philippines’ delicate position amid the South China Sea (SCS) dispute with China and the complexities of the Taiwan Strait issue.

Amid escalating tensions between the Philippines and China, there’s a pressing need for public discourse and informed dialogue. The recent collision involving Philippine and Chinese coast guard vessels on March 5, 2024 has intensified the urgency for public discussion on this critical issue.

As each incident fuels the simmering tensions between the Philippines and China over the contentious SCS, addressing the growing unease within the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region and across the broader Asia-Pacific is imperative. This latest flare-up has sparked apprehension and heightened rhetoric from both sides, resembling a “world war of words,” further straining Philippines-China bilateral relations.

In this atmosphere, fostering meaningful conversation becomes increasingly vital to navigate the complexities and prevent the further deterioration of the political ties between the Philippines and China.

Recent skirmish

The recent clash between the two countries’ coast guards is not just a local issue but a regional and global concern. Each maritime confrontation in the complex and contested waters of the SCS carries the potential for escalation, increasing the risk of military missteps or outright conflict between the Philippines and China. Such developments could have far-reaching consequences, potentially involving other nations, notably the US and its allies, and exacerbating regional tensions. This situation demands our attention and understanding.

This scenario underscores the vital importance of diplomatic engagement, steadfast dedication to peaceful conflict resolution and the push for the early conclusion of the code of conduct on the SCS. Emphasizing the significance of cordial and peaceful negotiations brings to light the hopeful necessity of sustaining transparent and open channels for dialogue.

These efforts are significant and essential to mitigate the potential for heightened tensions and cultivate an environment conducive to diplomatic breakthroughs and enduring peaceful and amicable solutions to the SCS dispute.

Risks and vulnerabilities

However, the aforementioned incident’s broader implications extend beyond the immediate dispute and are deeply rooted in the ongoing major geopolitical power struggle and strategic competition between the US and China. The Philippines, historically aligned with the US through treaties such as the Mutual Defense Treaty, the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), finds itself at a crossroads. Its strategic position becomes increasingly complex, especially considering the military and logistical support it receives from the US.

This support is a crucial component of the broader American Pivot to Asia or Indo-Pacific strategy, aimed at countering and containing China’s expanding influence across political, diplomatic and economic domains in the Indo-Pacific region. This is a situation that requires our careful consideration and understanding.

Moreover, the situation in the Taiwan Strait adds another layer of complexity to the Philippines’ security concerns. The Taiwan Strait is a potential flash point for military confrontations in the Asia-Pacific region, and the presence of nine US military bases in the Philippines under EDCA could potentially drag the country into a cross-strait conflict. These EDCA-US military bases could be potential forward operating bases that may be used in the event of regional conflicts, notably in the Taiwan Strait or in the SCS.

The Taiwan issue is an internal affair of China. Taiwan is a renegade province that, as far as the Chinese are concerned, must be reunited with the mainland or the motherland through peaceful reunification, without discounting the use of force as the last resort if external powers interfere in China’s internal affairs.

While not officially recognizing Taiwan as an independent country, the US is committed to supporting its defense capabilities. This commitment partially manifests through arms sales to Taiwan, military presence and alliances in the Asia-Pacific region, including the Philippines.


At this critical juncture, the Philippines holds a pivotal role in the evolving geopolitical landscape of Southeast Asia. This is particularly true in the context of the contentious SCS dispute and the volatile situation in the Taiwan Strait. The presence of nine US military bases under EDCA, with some sites that are strategically provocative due to their proximity to Taiwan and even to the SCS and their potential military use, intertwines the country with the interests and conflicts of major world powers, notably the US and China.

This strategic positioning raises significant questions about the Philippines’ national security and sovereignty, and the broader implications for peace and stability in the region.

This positioning places the Philippines in a delicate situation. On the one hand, the alliance with the United States offers some defense and security incentives; on the other hand, it risks entangling the Philippines in geopolitical conflicts that could have devastating consequences for the Philippines and the wider Asia-Pacific region.

In this regard, the Philippines must carefully navigate these turbulent waters, balancing its national interest (economic prosperity and development) with the realities of regional geopolitical dynamics and international relations. The incumbent Philippine government and the security forces should handle the SCS dispute and the Taiwan situation rationally, objectively and with a level head to prevent unnecessary irritation and antagonism that might lead to a forceful confrontation with China that the Philippines is not equipped and prepared for.

Hence, it is imperative to emphasize for the nth time that the Marcos administration, alongside concerned government officials of the country, should be more discerning, cautious and wiser in how they approach matters.


The question of whether the Philippines is in danger is on the horizon in uncertain ways if the Marcos administration does not exercise prudence in how it navigates the complex geopolitical dynamics of the region, given the complex strategic competition and rivalry between China and the US, with the Asia-Pacific being the battleground of this competition.

The nine EDCA-US military bases undeniably entrench the Philippines further within regional power dynamics. The inherent challenge lies in delicately managing balanced relationships with major global powers in the region while safeguarding sovereignty, independence and national interests. This delicate balancing act is aimed at averting the escalation of conflicts that could reverberate across the country, Southeast Asia and the expansive Asia-Pacific region, underscoring the complexity and gravity of the Philippines’ strategic positioning.

However, while adeptly navigating the intricacies of the country’s supposed and imagined balanced and independent foreign policy and strategy, we must adopt an unwavering clarity regarding matters as critical as war and peace. In this regard, it’s imperative that we staunchly reject and oppose any strategy or maneuver that would thrust our country into the perilous forefront of being at the frontline battleground of the strategic geopolitical rivalry between the US and China.

This stance transcends mere strategy or policy; it is a principled assertion and commitment aimed at safeguarding the lives and well-being of our fellowmen and preserving our nation’s sovereignty and integrity.

Source: The Manila Times

Prof. Anna Rosario Malindog-Uy

Prof. Anna Rosario Malindog-Uy is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Institute of South-South Cooperation and Development (ISSCAD), Peking University, Beijing, China. She is currently a director and the Vice President for External Affairs of the Asian Century Philippines Strategic Studies Institute (ACPSSI), a think tank based in Manila. She also serves as the political/geopolitical analyst of ACPSSI. Currently, she is a Senior Researcher of the South China Sea Probing Initiative (SCSPI) and a Senior Research Fellow of the Global Governance Institution (GGI). She is also the President of Techperformance Corp, an IT-based company in the Philippines. Prof. Anna Uy taught Political Science, International Relations, Development Studies, European Studies, Southeast Asia, and China Studies. She is a researcher-writer, academic, and consultant on a wide array of issues. She has worked as a consultant with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other local and international NGOs.