Philippines sees risk of conflict over Taiwan as a ‘major concern’

August 15, 2023 - 6:18 PM
Filipino soldiers stand at attention near a Philippine flag at Thitu island in disputed South China Sea April 21, 2017. (Reuters/Erik De Castro/File Photo)

 The Philippines seeks to bolster its ability to address threats while underlining the need to strengthen ties with allies while pursuing an independent foreign policy, under a six-year national security policy published on Tuesday.

The 48-page National Security Policy document, which President Ferdinand Marcos Jr recently approved, highlighted “sharpening strategic competition between the United States and China” and “heightened rivalries among the major powers” as contributing to a “more tense geopolitical landscape”.

“Major concern is also seen in the Cross-Straits relations that has the potential to be the flashpoint in the region,” the government said in the document, published by the National Security Council, referring to the Taiwan Strait.

“The Philippines is concerned about its economic stability, a potential influx of refugees, and the welfare of overseas populations.”

Beijing, which claims self-ruled Taiwan as its own, has been staging military exercises in the waters off the island to press its claim of sovereignty. The United States and allies such as Japan criticise such pressure on Taiwan.

“Any military conflict in the Taiwan Strait would inevitably affect the Philippines given the geographic proximity of Taiwan to the Philippine archipelago and the presence of over 150,000 Filipinos in Taiwan,” the government said in the document.

The Philippines’ northernmost islands are 190 km (118 miles) away from Taiwan.

The plan also covered government food and energy security priorities and noted that the South China Sea “remains a primary national interest”.

“The divergences of claims … claimants’ methods of asserting their positions, continue to pose strategic challenges” that endanger territorial integrity and people’s rights, said the Philippines, which is in dispute with China over parts of the sea.

To achieve energy security, the government said it would explore development of offshore reserves, including in the South China Sea, to help reduce dependence on imports.

Ties with China have grown tense under Marcos, as the Philippines pivots back to traditional ally the United States.

The Philippines would strengthen a Mutual Defense Treaty with the U.S., along with other existing mechanisms with regional partners, to “achieve a credible defense capability”, it said.

—Reporting by Karen Lema; editing by Robert Birsel