09.04.2024 Author: Brian Berletic

Washington’s Political Capture of the Philippines: A Former Colony, a Future Proxy

Tensions continue to grow in the Asia-Pacific region and more specifically in the South China Sea where China faces off against the United States and its collection of regional proxies including Japan and Australia.

While the US claims these growing tensions stem from China’s desire to undermine “freedom of navigation” and stability in the region, it is instead part of a decades-long US policy of containing China.

As the US continues to implement this policy, the prospects of an Ukraine-style conflict-by-proxy erupting in the Asia-Pacific region grow.

The US Seeks to Control Asia-Pacific, Not Protect It 

In US State Department documents from as far back as the 1960s, it is admitted that America’s military presence in Asia is maintained, “in support of a long-run United States policy to contain Communist China.”

These same documents admit that the US maintains three fronts to “contain China” including, “(a) the Japan-Korea front; (b) the India-Pakistan front; and (c) the Southeast Asia front.” 

Washington currently maintains tens of thousands of US troop along the “Japan-Korea front.”

Along the “India-Pakistan front” the US has attempted to undermine Chinese-Pakistani ties through the backing of armed separatists in Baluchistan province, targeting infrastructure projects of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) all while the US courts India as part of its anti-China “Quad” alliance.

Along the “Southeast Asia front,” the US has attempted to build up and install into power anti-Chinese political parties. In Myanmar, the US is backing an armed conflict attempting to overthrow the China-friendly government and replace it with a US client regime. But at the very center of current and growing tensions between the US and China is the Southeast Asian state of the Philippines.

Far from “supporting” the Philippines, Washington fully intends to pit the nation against China at the full expense of the Philippines’ own best interests.

While China stands as the Philippines’ largest and most important trade partner and Manila’s best prospect for developing badly needed modern infrastructure, Washington would have Filippino public funds diverted instead to military spending, fueling tensions that will jeopardize trade and infrastructure cooperation with China.

Instead of Chinese-built roads, rail, ports, hospitals, and schools amid growing bilateral trade, the archipelago nation will instead invest in ships, warplanes, and military facilities to host US troops.

Like Ukraine in Eastern Europe, the Philippines will watch its economy spiral as public time, money, energy, and attention is increasingly invested into a growing proxy conflict orchestrated by and for Washington. The Philippines, already tragically lagging behind the rest of ASEAN, will see the gap in economic power and development widen even further over the next decade if Washington’s political capture of Manila continues.

The Philippines: A Former Colony, Not a “Friend” 

It is important to understand that while the US State Department talks about “support for the Philippines in the South China Sea,” and helping to protect “lawful Philippine maritime operations” against a “dangerous” China, it was the United States that had, in fact, invaded, occupied, and colonized the Philippines.

During America’s colonial rule, the people of the Philippines were brutalized and exploited.

The US State Department on its own webpage titled, “The Philippine-American War, 1899–1902,” admits:

After its defeat in the Spanish-American War of 1898, Spain ceded its longstanding colony of the Philippines to the United States in the Treaty of Paris.

The ensuing Philippine-American War lasted three years and resulted in the death of over 4,200 American and over 20,000 Filipino combatants. As many as 200,000 Filipino civilians died from violence, famine, and disease.

The US State Department’s Office of the Historian also admits, “U.S. forces at times burned villages, implemented civilian reconcentration policies, and employed torture on suspected guerrillas.” 

The Philippines gained independence only in 1945 but has since been the subject of long-standing efforts by Washington to reassert influence over the country including through the basing of US military forces and now Washington’s overt use of the Philippines as a proxy in its policy of confronting and containing China.

The exploitation of impoverished Filipinos by the US continued long after gaining “independence,” including specifically on US bases in the Philippines itself. The Nation in a 2023 article titled, “Preparing for War in the South China Sea,” would admit:

…activists say they are troubled by the fact that when the United States employed tens of thousands of Filipinos at the Clark and Subic Bay bases, those workers faced exploitation and wage discrimination, a dynamic intensified by US assertions that it could override Philippine labor law. 

The same article noted how even as the US begins to expand its military presence in the Philippines today, damage done to the population and environment from previous decades of military occupation has yet to be rectified.

Fabricating a Pretext 

While the Western media attempts to convince the global public that China represents a unique threat to maritime freedom of navigation and territorial claims in the South China Sea, the region is, in fact, the site of multiple overlapping maritime claims resulting in long-standing disputes not just between various Southeast Asian claimants and China, but also among themselves.

The disputes can at times escalate in spectacular fashion.

The Star, a Malaysian media platform, in a 2023 article titled, “Kelantan MMEA disposes of seven seized Vietnamese boats,” and the Vietnamese media platform VN Express in a 2018 article titled, “Indonesia sinks 86 Vietnamese fishing boats,” illustrates not only that maritime disputes exist among Southeast Asian nations and have spanned many years, but that these disputes involve confrontations at sea resulting in detained crews, seized vessels, and even the sinking of such vessels.

Despite the seemingly severe nature of these confrontations, bilateral and regional diplomatic relations, trade, and cooperation continue on good and growing terms. In other words, while these disputes exist, competing claimants value and benefit from regional stability more than escalating these specific disputes. The economic and political value of any one claimant resolving these disputes decisively in their favor is negligible compared to the benefits of continued stability and cooperation with other claimants, including China.

The United States has crossed the entire Pacific Ocean to insert itself into these otherwise ordinary and common disputes, and escalate them into a regional or even global conflict. The US and its allies, including Australia and Japan, are using this as a pretext to militarize the Philippines and back it in a confrontation with China in an attempt to dangerously disrupt the status quo surrounding these existing disputes, done at the expense of not only the Philippines relations with China, but at the expense of regional stability.

According to Harvard University’s Atlas of Economic Complexity, as of 2021, China represented the Philippines’ largest export market at around 33% versus the US at 14.5%, Japan at 11% and Australia at less than 1%. Even combined, the anti-China AUKUS alliance together with Japan represents a smaller export market for the Philippines.

The Philippines counts China as its largest source of imports as well at 35% while, again, AUKUS+Japan combined, accounts for less than 16%.

It is also important to consider the majority of the Philippines’ trade is conducted across Asia. Therefore, in addition to sabotaging trade with China directly, a regional conflict would impact and undermine the Philippines’ trade with the rest of Asia, just like the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has undermined both Ukraine’s own economy and Europe’s economy as a whole.

Just as the US did to Ukraine upon its political capture by Washington in 2014, there are no viable alternatives offered for the Philippines to replace the amount of economic cooperation taking place between it and China as it eagerly escalates toward conflict with Beijing. If tensions continue to grow and economic ties begin to unravel, the Philippines, like Ukraine, will simply shed economic prosperity while diverting what little wealth it has into increased military spending.

The notion that China poses a genuine threat to the Philippines based on long-standing, ongoing maritime disputes (which exist worldwide even among European nations), is a fabricated pretext for a vast regional military build-up led by the United States in an attempt to contain China.

The notion that China is threatening trade and navigation in the South China Sea is also a fabricated pretext. The vast majority of all maritime shipping transiting the South China Sea is either coming from or going to China, including to and from nations like the Philippines, according to the US government-funded Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in a study titled, “How Much Trade Transits the South China Sea?”

More than a quarter of all shipping through the South China Sea consists of Chinese exports. Other regional nations moving exports through the South China Sea count China as their largest or one of their largest trade partners, meaning that much of these exports are likely headed to China itself.

Here is revealed the true purpose of a US military build-up in and around the South China Sea – threatening, interfering with, and possibly even interdicting Chinese maritime trade, all as part of a wider effort to contain China. An additional benefit of this policy is the sabotaging of other regional economies, creating a weaker Asia the US is better able to maintain primacy over.

As is often the case, the US pursues a policy in reality diametrically opposed to the fictional policies it publicly announces. The US is supposedly involved in protecting maritime trade of nations like the Philippines through the South China Sea from China, the very nation the Philippines is trading with the most.

The price the Philippines is paying for Washington to “protect” it from Chinese aggression and encroachment taking place in fiction, is the very real surrender of Filipino sovereignty, territory, foreign policy, and economic prospects to Washington.

Only time will tell how long the Philippines will spiral down into the socio-political and economic black hole Washington has opened beneath it, but as Ukraine has demonstrated, the longer the Philippines spirals toward it, the harder it will be to avert the inevitability of disappearing into it entirely.


 Brian Berletic is a Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher and writer, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”

Related articles: