The Philippines: Future Foe or Long-term Friend? | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Posted On March 20, 2017

With the uncertain political situation in the Philippines and the comments President Duterte has made about distancing from the United States militarily to align closer to China and Russia, many are concerned about what this means for the relationship between the Philippines and the U.S. And rightfully so – this would be a major shift, and over time could be a cause for concern.

At the same time, the Philippines has been quick to point out that the commercial and social relationships between it and the United States are very strong, and that it wants and expects those to continue.

And therein lies an important point… a rebalancing of military relationships does not automatically lead to poor commercial and social relationships between countries.

In a quick exercise to demonstrate how countries can have a variety of types of relationships with the United States, I did a super simple comparison of several military and social dimensions in the graphic below. In addition to the Philippines, I chose India, Malaysia, and Turkey to represent a cross-section of countries near Russia and China that have some level of meaningful connection to the United States. Turkey is a member of NATO, India is a major trading partner for services and goods, and Malaysia is an interesting mix of relations with China and the U.S. (not to mention the Malay flag looks very similar to the United States flag).

I looked at language, religion, sports, and use of NATO-sourced fighter craft (both trainers and actively deployed.) Those without NATO-sourced fighter craft tend to attain theirs from Russia or China. Most countries not in NATO and near Russia have some mix of fighter aircraft.

Philippines U.S. relationship

Based on this very simple comparison, many in the global services industry might be surprised to see that India appears to be the least well-aligned to the U.S. on most dimensions. In particular, India depends primarily upon Russia for various types of military equipment, beyond just aircraft, and India is an important export market for Russia.

By contrast, the Philippines is very closely aligned to the U.S. on all dimensions, which explains why the average Filipino has a hard time with the concept of weakened commercial and social ties to the U.S.

Time will tell what actually happens. But we should all remember that military, commercial, and social ties can operate somewhat independently. Relationships between most countries are complex and multi-faceted, so a change in one area may be slow to impact the overall relationship.

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