The Philippines — an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands that was once a U.S. colony and is now a U.S. treaty ally — faces challenges to internal stability and sits at the crosshairs of geopolitical contestation in the Western Pacific. With decades of experience in the Philippines, USIP programming has expanded rapidly since 2022 along three lines: ground-level support to local partners implementing the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which is the greatest opportunity for sustainable peace in Mindanao in generations; convening dialogues on key issues for the U.S.-Philippines alliance; and support for national efforts to mainstream peace education, including in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
In recent months, the Chinese Coast Guard and Beijing’s maritime militia have used dangerous maneuvers to block and harass the Philippine Coast Guard and Armed Forces of the Philippines from conducting resupply missions to the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal. An October 22 collision between two of the countries’ coast guard vessels is just the latest incident of maritime confrontation. As tensions rise, the stakes are high and could draw in the United States, which has a mutual defense treaty with the Philippines, and other naval powers.
In asserting its claims in the South China Sea, Beijing “recognizes that international law is not on its side,” says USIP’s Andrew Scobell. Instead, China has resorted to gray-zone provocations against the Philippines and others that “are deliberate, on China’s part, to keep [the situation] below the threshold of war.”
A diplomatic win, many people said about the announcement of a hotline between the Philippines and China. This was one of the highlights of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s trip to China in January 2023, where he and Chinese President Xi Jinping established a direct line of communications between their two capitals. Specifically, the line would be between departments in each country’s foreign affairs ministries that deal with maritime and border issues. The objective was to prevent the escalation of tension in the West Philippine Sea (also referred to as the South China Sea).
Great power rivalry between the United States and China is frequently described in bilateral terms, with regions of the world — including Southeast Asia — merely serving as arenas of competition. But this framing ignores the agency of third countries in managing the risks and opportunities presented by this competition. To explore these countries’ agency and the corresponding policy options, this USIP essays series includes contributions from 10 Southeast Asia-based experts. Each essay provides one country’s perspective on how the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) perceive and respond to strategic competition between the United States and China.
In recent years, peace processes — such as the track 2 intra-Afghan negotiations — have shown that on both a moral and practical level, women’s inclusion is essential. Women’s involvement in peace processes increases their likelihood of success and longevity and can increase legitimacy. While more literature on women contributing to mediation and negotiation efforts is slowly being produced, little attention is currently being paid to the already existing work of women who employ their faith and mobilize religious resources for peacebuilding.