The Long View: “Strategic Silence”


‘Strategic silence’

In a nutshell, that was the policy of the Philippines concerning Ukraine, despite Ukranian lobbying for the country to raise its voice in support of that invaded nation, until the secretary of foreign affairs went to Poland. The experience seemingly inspired the DFA to innovate foreign policy and add the country’s voice to the majority of nations condemning Russia’s actions.

Last week, I mentioned how it apparently took the President by surprise; thereafter, it seems the President resigned himself to the new state of affairs but focused his attention on Russian arms purchases dear to his heart. In, (click “air force” then select “heavy lift helicopter”) you will find the detailed story of how the President personally insisted the timetable for the acquisition of heavy-lift choppers be not only accelerated but be specifically sourced from Russia, as a condition for his approving the purchase of Black Hawk choppers (itself a compromise as he had wanted to end the AFP’s practice of sourcing equipment from the United States). It’s proven a bumpy ride, not least because of the risk of incurring sanctions in the Philippines; but shortly after Russia’s Ukrainian invasion, the secretary of defense reportedly announced the down payment had been made: this was likely reassuringly raised in last week’s meeting called by the President.

As I also mentioned last week, it seems the online activities of the President and Marcos’ supporters were primed to push the Russian line while suggesting it served as a warning against hard-headed places like Taiwan and the Philippines concerning China. Rappler, which outlined the extensive use of Russian online assets for the government back in 2019, reported last week that pro-Marcos and Duterte accounts were busy pushing a pro-Moscow line (even as others observed a downturn in online activity for the Marcos campaign). This serves as a timely reminder of what the world is discussing. It boils down to this: Just the other day, Beijing announced Moscow is its “most important strategic partner,” adding that theirs is “one of the most crucial bilateral relationships in the world.” A rejection of the global campaign of imposing sanctions and demands to condemn the invasion.

This comes as the world marks a half-century since Richard Nixon, in a bold gambit to drive a wedge between the Soviet Union and Communist China, opened up relations with Beijing. What followed was the American pursuit of helping shepherd the People’s Republic into the global community operating under American-led rules, first by taking over Taiwan’s seat in the UN Security Council and culminating in China acceding to the World Trade Organization. A half-century on, as China reclaims the global position it had occupied until the late 1700s, and America recedes in influence, Americans are challenging the wisdom of Nixon’s move even as Russia and China have once again become allies. China, always consistently critical of the idea of sanctions to compel countries to behave a certain way, and eager to expand its own strategies to displacing American dominance, has resisted global opinion in terms of Russia and discreetly kept open ways for Russia to further cement the partnership the two countries most recently underscored last February when Putin and Xi met.

Among the things China has made available: When Visa and Mastercard pulled out, Russian banks announced they were exploring using UnionPay, China’s own payment card system. Earlier, Russia had been ousted from the SWIFT bank transaction network: but China has its own system, CIPS which in turn fosters the use of the Chinese yuan (and the Hong Kong dollar), potentially enough of an umbilical cord for Russia which can continue to transact with China and sell exports banned elsewhere. If Russia miscalculated in thinking it could mount a quick blitzkrieg in Ukraine, and that the West would stand by merely wringing its hands, it didn’t make a mistake in increasingly strengthening an alliance reversing the historic suspicions between Russia and China, and creating a united front against the United States. The emerging regional order that was fostered by American defense diplomacy: cooperation between Australia, Japan, and India, as a counter to China’s “all under heaven” dream of restored paramount status in the world. Russia’s extensive ties with India have created a wedge keeping that country from joining the rest of the world in condemnation.

Even as the President worried about his Russian military deals, Marcos Jr. did a backstep. After initially toeing a line very similar to the “strategic silence” our diplomats originally took to be their marching orders concerning Ukraine, he then said he hoped for peace and respect for Ukraine. This costs nothing as it means nothing: even as Russia and China come together due to a shared strategic vision, it’s well to bear in mind those interests converge in one candidacy tying together old and new ties to both country: Marcos-Duterte.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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