A Hail Mary Pass in Manila

Manuel L. Quezon III
5 min readJun 9, 2024


Ukrainian and Filipino Presidents Thumb Noses At Beijing

From Business Insider

My column this week looks at the surprise visit of the President of Ukraine to Manila, which came right at the heels of the both leaders making a splash in Singapore, the Philippine President with his keynote address and his Ukrainian counterpart with his pointed remarks.

For my coverage of China, Russia, and the Philippines, see The Explainer: Russia’s pivot to Tokyo courtesy of Trump and Inquirer Briefing: China’s 21st Century Vision (2016) The Explainer: The Russian Dilemma and The Explainer: China’s pleasant ASEAN picture (2017) The Long View Context: China, Russia, Washington (and the Marcoses too) (2022).

Interesting readings: The China-Iran-Russia Triangle: Alternative World Order? (2022); The Axis of Upheaval and How China, Russia and Iran are forging closer ties (2024).

This week’s The Long View:


Philippine Daily Inquirer / 04:30 AM June 05, 2024

Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s surprise whirlwind visit to Manila was the kind any Filipino president would appreciate: A pit stop specifically meant to court Philippine support which telegraphs that the Philippines-and its president, essentially one and the same thing in the eyes of our presidents-matters. For Zelenskyy, it gave him the opportunity to repeat his core message in Singapore: that the People’s Republic of China is in out-and-out alliance with Russia, using its regional influence in support of Russian aims.

Those aims increasingly seem achievable. As The New York Times put it yesterday, “Officially, Ukraine still talks about total victory, pushing Russia out of every inch of territory it seized since the February 2022 invasion … But in Washington, those rallying calls sound increasingly unrealistic. Russia appears to be regaining momentum.” Zelenskyy has spent the past two weeks publicly asking for support to pressure his American counterpart to relax restrictions on using United States-sourced arms against Russia. Over the weekend, President Joe Biden finally ordered a small and very partial relaxation of the restriction. This, even as the stockpiles of the Western alliance dwindled while Russia rallied Iranian, North Korean, and Chinese support to beef up its own ramped-up armament production with increased exports of their own. Between Europe and America’s inability to ramp up production, Washington’s bickering over and, thus, delaying funding for support for Ukraine, Russia can now look forward to reaping the expensive rewards of a war of attrition it can afford, but which Ukraine can’t.

This staying power, combined with genuine innovations-learning from experience-in the field, means the solidarity of a US-led alliance is showing signs of uncertainty and even fatigue as doubts increase over American commitment to its allies and the “rules-based international order.”

Fresh from a Washington summit in which the premier of Japan was essentially handed the torch of regional leadership by Uncle Sam, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida found it prudent to attend a tripartite summit hosted by the president of South Korea with the premier of China-where little of significance was agreed on, but the symbolic point of recognizing the need to keep engaged, was made.

Which adds context to Zelenskyy’s interviews in which he said he wanted to solicit Manila’s attendance in the Swiss summit meant to talk peace in Ukraine-to which Moscow isn’t invited, and which Beijing says it won’t attend as a result. Dropping by Manila was a pointed gesture, internationally and domestically. Internationally, as it appeals to Manila’s traditional identification with freedom and its more recent resurgence as a principled opponent of Chinese ambitions in the region; domestically, because it further polishes President Marcos’ aspirations to project visibility on the global stage as a plucky ally of the West, in contrast to the arguably foolish and definitely far-from-popular cozying up to both Beijing and Moscow by his predecessor.

Pleading scheduling conflicts, Mr. Marcos said he was pleased his Ukrainian counterpart was able to squeeze in a Manila visit despite their being unable to schedule one while they were both in Singapore. So it had to be: Marcos had his own message to deliver there, as did Zelenskyy, and for both to meet in the sidelines of the Singapore blabfest would have muddled both their messages. This way, Zelenskyy’s Manila stopover gave the finger to Beijing and Manila’s reception did the same-and gifted the Dutertes with the same gesture, since it was a bilateral featured in the world’s media.

Still, Zelenskyy is engaged in a Hail Mary pass, a last-ditch effort to round up global support to counter the increasing probability of Russian success in the field.

For his part, Mr. Marcos can look to side deals for Ukrainian wheat, and for a pat on the back from Western nations and their allies; resistance from the diplomatic service and the military brass to Duterte’s pivot to Moscow means there is little to lose by slighting Putin. But both he and Zelenskyy must be beyond bothered by the possibility of a Trump restoration: a potential state of affairs which might be bothering both Moscow and Beijing a lot less.

Speaking of China…

Some interesting readings starting with former Aussie PM Kevin Rudd’s Op-Ed on the challenges posed by increased Chinese pressure on Taiwan. Follow this with two must-reads from ChinaTalk: first, Deterring a Taiwan Invasion and then, Deterring a Taiwan Invasion (Pt. II). Both are a brisk dive into the evolution of Chinese attitudes and strategy, as well as capability, since the 1990s on the question of invading Taiwan. The rich and satisfying dessert capping of this three-course meal for the mind is another entry, Why America Didn’t Invade Taiwan. Particularly interesting from a Filipino point of view since during WW2 the invasion of Taiwan (more commonly known as Formosa then) was put forward as a rival strategy to invading the Philippines. Some historians today argue that once a Taiwan invasion’s grim odds were explored, it really wasn’t a debate between the two, which goes against the assumptions of historians over the past seven decades. As background see my own entry, Are We Even Wargaming? from last year.

How to Win An Election And Still Lose It

Filipinos are essentially unaware of Indian politics, something I’ve tried to show is unhelpful blindness from time to time (see India at 60 and The Explainer: The India Model and India and the Philippines redux). The past decade has been a disturbing story of the growing power of Hindu chauvinism but the other day, in winning a historic third term as premier, Modi has matched his antithesis, Jawaharlal Nehru but achieved a pyrrhic victory in that the result was a reenergized opposition.

The story is told through these articles. From 2022, a summary of the waning of the old party system and the secular political traditions: As India marks its first 75 years, Gandhi is downplayed, even derided. Fast forward to 2024 where this theme is continued in In Modi’s India, Gandhi has become irrelevant, and the seeming inevitability of Modi’s victory. But then, Is Modi Worried? India’s Long-Deflated Opposition Finds Some Momentum. And while there was this gripping profile of a seemingly doomed dynast, Time Is Running Out for Rahul Gandhi’s Vision for India, there came a hedging of this previously sure bet: Ridiculed for a decade, India’s Rahul Gandhi slows Modi juggernaut. As it turned out, at the heart of the electoral rebuke to Modi might be something only a dynast could conjure up: a deliberate evocation of the very political traditions Modi had tried to extinguish.

Originally published at https://mlq3.substack.com.



Manuel L. Quezon III

Columnist, Philippine Daily Inquirer. Editor-at-large Spot.ph. Views strictly mine. I have a newsletter, blog, podcast, and Patreon.