By Scott Morgan, exclusively for Vanguard Global & Defence Unlimited.
During the reign of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte one of the most interesting actions to observe was whether or not the Defense Pact signed with the United States in 1951 would be ended.
2021 marks the 70th Anniversary of the signing of the MDT (Mutual Defense Treaty) between these two nations, Speaking in an online forum the Defence Minister of the Philippines revealed two interesting points that will make analysts take notice of the situation.
First of all the Southeast Asian nation is concerned with what circumstances will lead Washington to come to the aid of its former colony if it comes under attack by a third party in the region. Due to its actions over the last couple of decades in the South China Sea there are now some thoughts that the People's Republic of China is now the main focus of this Security Pact.
One thing for certain is that Beijing believes this to be fact. During his remarks the Defense Minister stated that when the Duterte Administration was reviewing the MDT back in 2018 that a former Chinese envoy to Manila expressed its "concerns over amending the pact. The Defence Minister said that "When the US wants to revisit the MDT a third party doesn't want to. The third party in this instance is* China. The Chinese Ambassador stated "Please do not touch MDT, Leave it as it is." The view of Beijing was and probably still is that this pact is designed to prevent the further rise of China as an influence maker in not just Southeast Asia but in the greater Pacific Rim as a whole.
These were not the only remarks regarding China that the Defence Minister made also regarding China.
He stated that Chinese President Xi Jinping stated that the tensions in the South China Sea which also affects Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia as well could have the potential to last for two generations. It also appears that Beijing is not in a great hurry to see these issues resolved in a timely manner either.
The Biden Administration has been showing signs that it will follow the previous actions of the Obama Administration in its pivot towards Asia. This would indicate that China is a strategic adversary of the United States. The Philippines are having Presidential Elections in early 2022, It is question that relations with both Beijing and Washington will be key election planks when the Filipinos head to the polls.
When the leadership changes in Manila the question now becomes how long will it take for Beijing to test the strength of the MDT? The reasons for them to do so are twofold. First, what will be the resolve of the new President in Manila? Secondly after the events in Afghanistan how would the Biden Administration react to a call for assistance? The MDT appears to be a Red Line in the strategy of Beijing right now. The question has to be whether or not anyone in Washington is paying attention to what is taking place?