No change in Indo-Pacific stance under Trump presidency, says Philippine envoy

By Thomson Reuters Feb 28, 2024 | 12:09 AM

By Karen Lema

MANILA (Reuters) – The United States’ Indo-Pacific strategy will unlikely change should Donald Trump win in the presidential race, the Philippines’ longtime ambassador to Washington said on Wednesday.

Jose Manuel Romualdez in a speech said he was in touch with one of Trump’s close advisers who indicated to him the continuation of its current stance in the region.

The Philippines will not let up in asserting its maritime claims, Romualdez said, as tensions in the South China Sea continue to simmer, with Beijing vehemently opposed to what it considers incursions by Philippine vessels in into what it considers its waters.

The “aggression” we are now facing is very real, Romuladez said, adding the Philippines hopes China will see the value of continuing economic activity between them while trying to peacefully resolve their issues.

In an interview last week with Reuters, Romualdez, a cousin of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, said the Philippines was closely watching the U.S. presidential race but would view any change in leadership as an opportunity to renew the strengthening alliance between the two countries.

Their security engagements have stepped up considerably under U.S. President Joe Biden and Marcos, with both leaders keen to counter what they see as China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea and near Taiwan.

Biden is likely to face Trump, the Republican frontrunner to be the party’s presidential candidate, in a rematch in November’s presidential election.

Under Marcos, the Philippines has nearly doubled the number of its bases accessible to U.S. forces. A 1951 Mutual Defence Treaty binding them to defend each other in the event of attack and Marcos last year succeeded in pushing Washington to make clear the extent of that security commitment.

Romualdez on Tuesday said it was possible there could be one major “accident” in the South China Sea that could lead to that treaty being invoked, but hoped that would never happen.

(Reporting by Karen Lema; Writing by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor, Martin Petty)