New US envoy vows support for Manila amid territorial challenges from China

Jojo Riñoza and Basilio Sepe
New US envoy vows support for Manila amid territorial challenges from China MaryKay Carlson, the new U.S. ambassador to the Philippines, presents her credentials to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. at the Malacañang presidential palace in Manila, July 22, 2022.
[Courtesy @USAmbPH via Twitter]

The new American envoy to the Philippines assured President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Friday of Washington’s enduring support for its long-time defense treaty ally in Southeast Asia ally amid fresh territorial challenges from China.

Ambassador MaryKay Carlson presented her credentials to the new Philippine leader at the Malacañang presidential palace here, less than 24 hours after she landed in Manila to take up the diplomatic post.

“I am deeply honored to work with the Philippine government led by President Marcos and our #FriendsPartnersAllies across this great country to further U.S.-Philippine ties,” Carlson said via Twitter.

For his part, Marcos said he looked forward to working with Carlson in “continuing to strengthen our ties in the pursuit of common goals” as well as building relationships between Filipinos and Americans.

Carlson’s tenure begins against the backdrop of China increasing its assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea.

Philippine authorities had recently monitored Chinese ships entering into waters within Manila’s exclusive economic zone, despite Beijing’s top diplomat saying during a recent visit to Manila that two-way ties promised to be moving into a “golden era.” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also praised the new Philippine president.

Before taking office on June 30, Marcos promised he would assert a 2016 arbitration court ruling won by the Philippines against China over the South China Sea, an issue that his immediate predecessor was widely criticized and seen as weak in confronting.

Marcos is to deliver his first “state of the nation” address before the Philippine Congress on Monday, during which he will lay down his policies for his six-year term.

Marcos now is faced with the challenge of insisting that China follow the arbitral award, while also realizing that Beijing has emerged as an economic powerhouse that can rival the U.S., the country’s traditional military ally, analysts say.

Marcos’ “administration will either witness China’s ascent to a global superpower status or the U.S. will maintain its dominance in the region,” said Chester Cabalza, a political and defense analyst at International Development and Security Cooperation, a Manila think-tank.

Cabalza noted that the Philippines will likely play “a pivotal role” in shepherding a maritime rules-based norm in the region because of the 2016 arbitral ruling “that has also championed the world’s case for maritime order.”

However, he noted that Chinese leader Xi Jinping, whom Marcos’ predecessor Rodrigo Duterte called a close friend, has had an advantage over the U.S. these past six year when it comes to diplomacy in the South China Sea.

Now, new envoy Carlson’s familiarity with Asia – she previously served in China and India – will serve her well amid the intense U.S.-China rivalry in the region.

“Her post in the Philippines can determine the fate of Washington’s closeness with Manila,” Cabalza said.

The challenge lies in how the envoy sustains the appeal of the U.S. as the Philippines’ oldest treaty ally, he said, “and also how Marcos Jr. will seize that opportunity to patch up differences with Washington.”

The Mutual Defense Treaty, signed by both countries in 1951, binds the two allies to aid each other in times if a foreign power attacks either country, and would allow the U.S. to use former American naval and air bases in the Philippines, a former American colony.


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