The victory of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr in Monday’s presidential election is official. The era of his father was one marked by immense greed and brutality that left a permanent scar on the soul of the Philippines. As the son and namesake of the former dictator, Bongbong’s rise to the presidency was made possible by a combination of prestige held from being the new face of the nation’s former ruling family, and the organization of the Duterte political machine. Bongbong’s running mate was Sara Duterte, daughter of the soon to be outgoing president. With the Philippines now poised to begin a new era, questions about the nation’s future relations with China and the United States have become more significant.
Marcos seems to want friendlier ties with China, but not at the expense of ceding sovereign territory. During the campaign, Bongbong bragged of having friends in Beijing and spoke of working towards a bilateral agreement with China to settle differences between Manila and Beijing. “If you let the US come in, you make China your enemy,” Marcos said during the campaign. “I think we can come to an agreement (with China). As a matter of fact, people from the Chinese embassy are my friends. We have been talking about that.” He is also eager to attract investors from China to help finance a massive national infrastructure plan.
Marcos is said to hold some personal issues with the United States. Understandable, given the manner in which the US government handled the aftermath of the elder Marcos’ departure from power. However, the current geopolitical situation in the Western Pacific has made relations with the US exceedingly important. The same holds true for the US-Philippines defense relationship. Marcos will seek to maintain the national interests of his country as a priority, even in the face of US-China power politics and competition in the region.
It will be a pretty neat trick if he can pull it off.
There are growing indications that North Korea is moving forward with plans for its first nuclear weapons test in over four years. Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been on the rise lately, though this has been underreported in light of the war in Ukraine. Last week, Kim Jong Un promised to continue development of its nuclear weapons “at the fastest possible speed.” This has prompted concerns that a test will be scheduled to disrupt the late May visit of US President Joe Biden to South Korea. Chinese and South Korea diplomats met in Seoul on Tuesday with China pledging to play a ‘constructive role’ in attempting to get North Korea to resume negotiations.
South Korea, with a new administration taking power on 10 May, is quite interested in deterring North Korea from escalating the situation. One element that appears to be coaxing the North along the slippery path it’s on at present is Russia. Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin have forged close ties over the years and the North is one of the few nations supporting Russia in its war without misgivings. In exchange for this loyalty, Russia could return the favor by blocking a UN effort to impose severe sanctions on North Korea if it does move forward with a nuclear test.
Having said this, it must be mentioned that the global economic fallout from Russia’s adventure in Ukraine and the recent COVID-19 outbreaks in China could hit the North Korean economy especially hard. Supply chain issues now coming into play will exacerbate food shortages. Inflation will also play a greater role. Food prices in North Korea often mirror global prices. With food prices rising around the world, the North’s prices are expected to do the same in the coming weeks, taking the country’s economic issues from bad to worse in the process.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is widely recognized as being an event that heralds the formal transition to a multipolar era. Even though ‘Great Powers Competition’ has become the preferred term of pundits and social media geopolitical ‘experts,’ I prefer Multipolar World since it more accurately describes the global landscape at present. For better or worse, power in the world is distributed amongst a small collection of nation-states and alliances spanning multiple continents. As we are witnessing in Ukraine with regards to Russia, the interdependence of the multipolar world becomes imperiled when a powerful nation-state or alliance places its own interests above those of the herd, so to speak.
For the United States and many of her allies in Europe and the Pacific, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has proven the opening phase of this Multipolar World era will be chaotic and without the reins of international oversight and rules-based order in existence since the end of World War II. In other words, despite the wishes of policymakers in Washington, London, Berlin and Tokyo, the present international system could find itself either in need of major remodeling or complete replacement. Russia’s challenge will help to determine not only the future of Ukraine as a nation-state, but also the future of the current international order.
Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has also reopened the debate on America’s place and role in the world. US actions and positions have consequences, there is no getting around that. Right now, the extent of those actions since the end of the Cold War are coming into focus as scholars and others in the field consider if Russia’s invasion was no more than an inevitable reaction to the US expanding its hegemony in Eastern Europe and beyond after the Cold War concluded. The US continues to play the principal role on the global stage, despite the desires of many Americans to step back from Europe and the Middle East and concentrate on Asia and the Pacific, where the most significant threat to US interests is at.
For the supporters of that line of thinking, Ukraine serves as a very rude wakeup call, proving that despite US desires and wishes, the world may not be ready to see the US shirk its responsibility or embark upon an entirely new endeavor.
Pakistan’s new prime minister is inheriting a turbulent situation that will only grow worse in the coming months. Along with a morose economic picture and the fallout generated from Pakistan’s latest constitutional crisis, Shehbaz Sharif is now facing the prospect of a mass resignation in parliament. Over 100 lawmakers who remain loyal to ousted prime minister Imran Khan quit today. If the resignations are accepted by the parliament speaker, 100 new elections will have to take place within two months. This will almost certainly be a major distraction for Sharif early on. It also provides an opportunity for Khan to mobilize his support and set the stage for deeper political turmoil in Pakistan down the line.
Sharif took the oath of office at Pakistan’s presidential residence late on Monday at a ceremony packed with lawmakers and leaders. Unlike his predecessor, Sharif enjoys good relations with Pakistan’s military. Pakistan’s military has traditionally controlled the country’s foreign and defense policies, leaving the prime minister to deal with domestic issues largely unfettered. He is looking to repair ties with the United States and improve relations with both India and China down the line. With regards to India, however, Sharif said warmer ties will not be possible until the Kashmir situation being resolved.
Sharif’s election as prime minister marks the return of political dynasties to the center of power and influence in Pakistan. He is the brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who was removed from power by the supreme court in 2017 because of undeclared financial assets. The Sharifs and Bhuttos, normally rival political clans, came together to unseat Khan. In essence, the establishment has won out and is now back in power for the moment.
Yet Khan will probably not fade into the background quietly. As mentioned above, this resignation of lawmakers may be the start of Khan’s counteroffensive. It remains unclear if the end result will be his return to power, but at the very least, Pakistan’s political landscape will face some boisterous times in the near future
China’s controversial new security agreement with the Solomon Islands continues to generate uncertainty and concern around the South Pacific region and beyond. Australia and New Zealand have openly expressed their misgivings on the agreement. On the surface, the pact potentially places Chinese military forces on the doorstep of both nations. In the event of a crisis or open hostilities, the terms of the agreement can transform the Solomons into a Chinese military encampment.
Canberra sent two senior intelligence officials to the Solomons to discuss Australia’s concerns with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who stated that Australia remains his nation’s ‘partner of choice.’ There is still some confusion over whether or not the agreement has been signed by the Solomon Islands or just initialed by Sogavare, as he claims. In a statement released early Thursday, the Solomon Islands government said the meeting with Australian envoys has enabled both countries to understand the terms of the China agreement more thoroughly.
Sogavare continues to claim the agreement is “domestically focused.” Yet the draft document states that Chinese warships could stop in the Solomons for “logistical replenishment” and that China could send police, military personnel and other armed forces to the Solomons “to assist in maintaining social order.”