Last week, at the end of President Obama's Asian tour, the president was able to conclude the final touches on a mutual defense pact with the Philippines, a significant foreign policy victory for America.
Once an American colony (1898-1946), American presence in the Philippines in recent history has been cool at best. The last permanent military base on the Philippines was abandoned in 1992 after a fiery rejection of American military presence by the Filipino government.
Encroachment into the South China Sea by recent Chinese strategic alliances may have at least something to do with these new developments. The Philippines have been locked into various territorial disputes, primarily over Huangyan Island and Ren'ai Reef in the South China Sea, with mainland China.This new 10-year defense pact gives the United States temporary, but almost unlimited access to air and naval bases within the Philippines. Key to gaining this access will be the base on the Batanes Islands -- which is historically a major bottleneck for all shipping traffic leaving China through the South China Sea.
The deal, however, did come short of unconditional military support -- like we have with Japan. While this has tarnished the popularity of the deal, support in the Philippines is still strong with over 85 percent having a favorable view of relations with the United States. As far as public support goes, the Philippines is our strongest ally in the Asian theatre.
Of course, the Chinese are not exactly happy about this move. The People's Daily News reports that these moves "make rational discussion over the issue at the diplomatic table 'much harder.'" Not exactly saber-rattling, but the message is clear that the Philippines has embraced the U.S. containment strategy regarding China's territorial claims.
Strategically, the United States is walking a fine line. Even though fears of China's expansion are growing in the area, resentment of American policies is keeping pace. We need more strengthening in our Asian strategy and more credit given when due to the president for advancing American interests abroad.
But then again, the Ukraine and Flight 370 are the only newsworthy things happening outside of the United States these days.
Photo Credit: AP Photo / Charles Dharapak