By Rommel C. Banlaoi, PhD
On January 3-6, 2023, Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. is scheduled to hold his first state visit to the People’s Republic of China to fulfill his earlier declaration to shift Philippines-China relations to a higher gear.
President Marcos’ state visit to Beijing aims to level up the China-friendly policy of former President Rodrigo R. Duterte who initiated the paradigm shift to China after the Philippine government suffered the lowest moment of Philippines-China relations under former President Benigno Simeon Aquino III.
The visit is also an opportune time for the Philippines to elevate bilateral ties with China to a higher plane by establishing a strategic partnership from its current status of comprehensive strategic cooperation.
The Philippines and China pursued comprehensive strategic cooperation during the state visit of President Xi Jinping to the Philippines in 2018.
This type of bilateral relationship aims to strengthen cooperation in various fields: social, cultural, economic, political and even in the area of traditional and non-traditional security.
But among countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Philippines is the only country that has not yet established strategic partnership with China.
Even ASEAN as a regional organization has a two-decade strategic partnership with China established as early as 2003.
China and ASEAN have adopted in 2018 their Strategic Partnership Vision 2030 to foster friendly relations, mutually beneficial cooperation, and good neighborliness among their people.
It is, therefore, very odd to see the Philippines not having a strategic partnership with China.
In business management, strategic partnership involves the pooling and sharing of resources between or among companies to accomplish their common targets and meet their collective objectives.
Strategic partnership reduces the cost of business and increases benefits of one company by working very closely with other companies.
In international relations, strategic partnership upholds the sovereign equality of all states aiming to cooperate for mutual advantage while recognizing each other’s national interests.i
Building strategic partnership with fellow sovereign states is based on the assumption that “no singled country is able to tackle today’s complex problems on its own.”ii
As early as 1992, the US already pursued strategic partnership with Turkey.
China followed suit in 1993 when it initiated strategic partnership with Brazil.
Since the end of the cold war, China has established at least 70 strategic partnership arrangements with various countries.
The concept of strategic partnership became the buzzword in the post-cold war era when then Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin established “a new stage” of American-Russian “mature strategic partnership” in 1994.
But ASEAN was actually the first one that trailblazed the idea of strategic partnership when it declared Australia as a Dialogue Partner in 1974.
To date, ASEAN has strategic partnership arrangements with Canada, China, European Union, India, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, and United States.iii
A recent study also shows that at least 150 strategic partnerships have been established by many countries of the world before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. iv
Thus, it is high time for the Philippines and China to establish a strategic partnership to commit both countries not only to cooperate for mutual benefits but also to define their shared future where they can enjoy peace and prosperity based on mutual trusts and respects as well as common development.
Strategic partnership between the Philippines and China can raise their bilateral ties to a privileged status where their foreign policy goals are interconnected while pursuing their respective national interests.
It can also provide the necessary tool kit for the Philippines and China to peacefully manage their territorial conflicts and maritime jurisdictional disputes in the South China Sea, particularly in the area called by Filipinos as West Philippine Sea.
Through their strategic partnership, the Philippines and China can pursue good ocean governance and blue economic partnership in the SCS.
Although strategic partnership cannot automatically resolve their differences on the SCS, more so in the WPS, it, however, commits both parties to persistently avoid military conflicts through joint development and preventive diplomacies, which are essential to promote the SCS as a sea of friendship, peace and prosperity.
(Dr. Banlaoi is the President of the Philippine Society for Intelligence and Security Studies, Chairman of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research and member of the Board of Directors of the China Southeast Asian Research Center on the South China Sea. He is also a member of the International Panel of Experts of the Maritime Awareness Project of the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR) and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation.)
#Andriy Tyushka and Lucyna Czechowska, eds. States, International Organizations , and Strategic Partnership (United Kingdom: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2019).
ii# Giovanni Grevi, “The rise of strategic partnerships: between interdependence and power politics” (Institute for Security Studies 2008) at http://www.jstor.com/stable/resrep07023.13
iii# ASEAN External Relations at https://asean.org/our-communities/asean-political-security-community/outward-looking-community/external-relations/
iv# Anna Michalski, Diplomacy in Changing World Order: The Role of Strategic Partnerships (Stockholm: Swedish Institute of International Affairs, 2019).