The Philippines’s current domestic politics and foreign relations 

The internal and external political situations of the Philippines are gaining a major impetus. On the domestic front, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. announced, on 24 November 2023, that the Philippines’ government is considering resuming its membership in the International Criminal Court (ICC). 

This came after Manila Representative Bienvenido Abante Jr. filed a resolution urging the Marcos administration to coordinate with the ICC. Moreover, this is nearly 5 years after the Philippines pulled out of the ICC in 2019 due to the investigation into possible crimes against humanity in former President Duterte’s drug war. However, the Philippines’ return to the ICC is currently under study as the jurisdiction and sovereignty in relation to the ICC investigation are still an issue. The Filipino government has a firm stance that it is not proper for the ICC, a foreign body, to dictate the Philippines anything and that its investigation was a threat to the country’s sovereignty. 

The consideration didn’t sit well with Vice–President Sara Duterte, former President Duterte’s daughter, who said that allowing an ICC investigation is “patently unconstitutional” while Harry Roque, former Presidential spokesperson, believed that even if the Philippines return to the ICC, the drug war can’t be investigated since “temporal jurisdiction was lost in 2019.” There is also a growing sentiment in the House of Representatives to allow the ICC to resume its investigation; however, Marcos said clearly that it is “not usual” for the House lawmakers to favor an ICC investigation and still believed that the country could solve its domestic affairs, including the drug war issue. 

On the foreign relations front, Manila’s relations with Beijing are deteriorating and worsening. Chinese and Philippines vessels engaged in a new confrontation in the South China Sea, in mid-November 2023. According to the Philippines, a Chinese coast guard ship and accompanying vessels conducted dangerous manoeuvres and blasted a Philippines supply ship with a water cannon in disputed waters. 

The Philippines authorities said the water cannon was used by the Chinese coast guard vessel in “an illegal though unsuccessful attempt to force it to alter course” as it took part in a routine resupply mission to troops stationed on the BRP Sierra Madre in the Second Thomas Shoal. However, the Philippines’s resupply mission was successfully carried out despite the incident. Despite that, the incident revealed the possible risk that could turn the confrontation into a more serious armed engagement in the future.  

China responded that it acted appropriately under maritime law to defend what it says is its territory and urged the Philippines to stop actions that infringe upon China’s rights while also saying China would continue to uphold its sovereignty. The Philippines, on the other hand, insisted “that Chinese vessels responsible for these illegal activities leave the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal immediately. Washington reacted immediately to the confrontation by repeating that it stands with its oldest ally in Asia “in the face of the People’s Republic of China’s repeated harassment in the South China Sea.” 

The Philippines’ consideration to return to the ICC raised complex internal and controversial discussions while its foreign relations with China is a regular confrontation. The Philippines must seek peaceful resolutions through diplomacy, both internally and externally, for the country’s stability. 

Myanmar armed groups seized Myanmar-China border crossing 

In late November 2023, the Myanmar ethnic minority rebels seized a key trading post on the country’s northern frontier, at a location from where China’s military is also conducting exercises to improve combat readiness and emergency response.   

The rebels included the Arakan Army (AA), the National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA). The alliance also captured numerous military positions and a strategically significant town – called the Kyin San Kyawt in the Mongko area, Muse district – that is crucial for trade with China, disrupting commerce routes vital for the junta. The junta reported that about 120 trucks, parked near the border crossing, had gone up in flames because of the armed groups’ attack. After the seizure, the MNDAA raised its flag at the border trade zone at Kyin San Kyawt signalling their victory in occupying the area. 

The occupation by the ethnic armed groups led many to believe the traditional dominance of the military junta is facing a dire challenge while China has urged its nationals to depart for safety back to Chinese territory. However, for Kokang people who sought to flee to China, Chinese authorities fired tear gas halting them from entering China’s territory while Beijing refrained from any comment on the action. The UN called this operation “the largest in scale and most extensive geographically” since the military coup. 

Myanmar’s ethnic armed groups seizing key locations pose a major challenge for the junta and innocent civilians. Urgent international intervention is direly needed to protect the innocent and prevent further escalation. 

Vietnam and Japan upgraded ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership 

During Vietnamese President Vo Van Thuong’s visit to Tokyo from 27 – 30 November 2023, Vietnam and Japan officially agreed to upgrade their relations to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity in Asia and the World.  

The two leaders issued a joint statement on elevating Vietnam-Japan relations affirming their desire to promote bilateral relations in all fields to “new heights”. Moreover, the two leaders also emphasized fundamental principles guiding the Japan-Vietnam relationship, including respect for the UN Charter, adherence to international law, and mutual respect. The new chapter would include more “substantial, comprehensive, effective, and closely-linked development to meet the interests of both sides and contribute to peace, stability, cooperation, and development in the region and the world.” 

With this upgrade, both Japan and Vietnam’s leaders endorsed the cooperation while it is argued that “it sends a signal to both China and the US that Vietnam is not going to take sides in the great power competition and will continue to pursue its traditional strategy of hedging and multilateralization of foreign affairs.” Others believe that Japan was eying on Vietnam’s collaboration in response to China’s rise and rivalry in the region.  

The Vietnam-Japan relations’ elevation signalled unity, and mutual interest in regional stability; however, both countries will need to remain alert not to veer their cooperation into any major powers’ rivalry in the region. 


Sovinda Po is a Research Assistant at the Griffith Asia Institute.