How will “Squad” be beneficial for the Philippines?

Amid rising tensions, more regional blocs are emerging in East Asia and the Pacific. In addition to the Quad, consisting of Australia, India, Japan, and the US, and AUKUS, a defense pact among Australia, the United Kingdom, and the US, a new regional bloc linking Australia, Japan, the Philippines, and the United States is getting advanced into a more permanent alliance. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met counterparts from Australia, Japan, and the Philippines last week as Washington sought to deepen ties within the rising regional group, which Pentagon officials had privately nicknamed the “‘Squad”. The quadrilateral marks the latest regional partnership Washington has forged to counter Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the region, and the formation of the alliance holds importance in the region’s evolving landscape as the United States expects imminent tensions in the region.

The Philippines confronts substantial risks in the South China Sea, owing to its geography and close proximity to the Chinese shore. Nevertheless, the informal alliance referred to as the Squad offers a significant opportunity for the country. The Philippines will receive security assistance including both hardware and human resource training. Analysts suggest that this alliance will enable Manila to “Borrow the Strength” of the other three nations in countering challenges from China and in elevating the Philippines status beyond that of a “Junior Partner”. The Squad is expected to undertake more maritime exercises and provide greater security assistance to the Philippines, which in recent months has been involved in several naval skirmishes with Chinese vessels in the South China Sea. Washington has made it clear to all nations, including China, that Beijing’s recent behavior in the disputed waterway is “Irresponsible” and “Disregards International Law”. 

The Squad will not just provide Manila with enhanced “Diplomatic Assurances” and assistance in building its capabilities but also guarantee increased interoperability between the Philippines and its allies. The absence of the Philippines in the Quad, formed between Asia-Pacific superpowers like Australia, Japan, India, and the United States, was notable. When India, traditionally allied with Russia, joined forces to counter China, the Philippines, the United States key ally in the region, was not included. This omission appeared to disregard the importance of the Philippines in the regional tensions, but the new alliance appears to rectify this.  Many believe there will be the move to  integrate the Philippines into the Quad to turn it into a five-member grouping, and some believe the United States forming an Asia-Pacific version of NATO. There are more countries in the region facing the threat of China and have entered into separate pacts with the US, such as Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore. They could join with them when analyzing the tensions in the region.

However, there are also dissenting voices; some argue that likening China to the Soviet Union or Russia is a mistake, suggesting that these agreements primarily benefit US interests. Chinese analysts warned that the Philippines had become increasingly manipulated by the US, losing its autonomy and becoming a pawn of the US in the region. Countries like India, never an ally of the US, have joined with them only to counter China, and they hold separate interests in the region. The integrating security pact will not agree with India, as they have been seeking separate relationships, including with the Philippines. India has forged ties with Manila, as seen in the recent sales of BrahMos missiles to the Philippines, noting that India-Philippines ties were likely to progress in non-traditional security areas such as cybersecurity, anti-piracy, and anti-terrorism. Last month, India delivered its first batch of supersonic cruise missiles to the Philippines under a $375 million deal signed in 2022. However, the recent aggression of China on Philippines vessels is validating the Philippines moves and bringing the country to the center of tensions. 

The United States can’t allow a situation like Ukraine in the South China Sea because significant suffering is occurring for the US and Europe due to the war. Additionally, as China seems to be losing momentum and facing significant challenges in its manufacturing sector, many predict that this situation will lead to an aggressive stance from China in the South China Sea, with the Philippines being a sure target in that situation. Here underscores the significance of the Squad; a bolstered opposition could prompt China to reassess its position. For the Philippines, it extends beyond security concerns; they foresee that aligning with the US can elevate them to the status of a regional power.