Inquiry on Philippine Alignment on US-China Rivalry: Is There a New Cold War?

WR Numero Research presented its findings on public opinion about US-China competition in a webinar with speakers from the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)Analyzing War digital magazine in California and the International Development and Security Cooperation (IDSC) from Manila. Senator Risa Hontiveros joined as well.

In the webinar September 25, 2020 entitled “Inquiry on Philippine Alignment on US-China Rivalry: Is There a New Cold War?” WR Numero Research was invited to provide data on digital sentiments about the rising competition between the U.S. and China. Digital conversations were mined from English language articles published in the Philippines and abroad by major news outlets with reference to the U.S.-China competition. A total of 274 posts and over 618,000 engagements were collected from 2016 up to present.

Dr. Robin Michael Garcia, WRN’s CEO and Head of Research, presented the results and analysis of the digital sentiments. Dr. Garcia mentioned the importance of understanding the aspects of this competition between the two most powerful nations, especially amid the upcoming U.S. elections in November, China’s economic struggles to bounce back from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s recent pronouncement before the UN affirming the country’s win in The Hague ruling.

The digital data did not reveal a concrete ideological divide on the presence or absence of cold war between the U.S. and China. The data showed, however, an interesting insight into the global and local consciousness regarding nations considered as superpowers and the interconnectedness of geopolitical issues today. As discussed by Dr. Garcia, local sentiments showed that Filipinos still see the U.S. as their main ally, while China is seen as a bully due to its claims in the West Philippine Sea and the spread of COVID-19 in the country. International sentiments, on the other hand, revealed that while there is indeed a tension between the U.S. and China, the present ideologies are not the same as the first Cold War between the U.S. and Soviet Union.

Dr. Garcia emphasized the importance of understanding public opinion and its impact in foreign affairs and policy decisions.

The webinar’s esteemed speakers also gave their insightful remarks.

Mirko Giordani, host of Deep in SEA, provided a brief evaluation of the U.S.-China rivalry from the perspective of a European nation. Although the tension between the two countries cannot be considered a cold war, he argued that the Philippines must take a side in this rivalry moving forward.

Murray Hiebert, Senior Associate of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), agreed as well that the U.S.-China relations can be more fittingly described as a “bad marriage with no option for divorce.” Regardless of the various word wars and trade and technological blowbacks, Hiebert argued that economic relations between the two countries still continue. Moreover, he mentioned that while hedging with powerful nations such as the U.S., Japan, and Australia is a great tool, ASEAN countries must strengthen its ties with each other at the same time.

Gregory Poling, Senior Fellow and Director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), also argued that the U.S.-China tension is not an ideological dispute and does not share the same analogy as the U.S-Soviet cold war. Given the global problems we are facing today such as climate change, cooperation is inevitable. While most nations are somewhat in the middle ground of this rivalry between the U.S. and China and on a number of other geopolitical subjects, Poling emphasized that the issue on the West Philippine Sea is not one of those subjects. He argued that this issue answers to the rules and international systems set in place. As the West Philippine Sea issue directly impacts the lives of many Filipinos, Poling argued that President Duterte and the administrations that would come after must reclaim the country’s agency in its own waters.

Finally, Philippine Senator Risa Hontiveros was also invited as guest of honor. She opened her speech by acknowledging President Duterte’s recent statement at the UN Assembly, hoping that his administration will follow through with their commitment. Senator Hontiveros also shared some recommendations to strengthen national security and empower the lives of Filipino fisher folks. 

Visit WR Numero Research’s Facebook page to watch the recording of the webinar: