“The Philippines, the South China Sea, and U.S. National Interests”



Date:  Thursday, May 17, 2018

Time:  Membership Social at 7:30 p.m.  Program at 8:00 p.m.


Access: Open to the public and free for members, students and accompanying family members, educators, and active military and their families. $10.00 charge for non-members.


                               Dr. Krista E. Wiegand                  Michael J. Jordan

As a former American colony, the Philippines has maintained close cultural, political, and military ties to the United States for decades. The island archipelago’s strategic location made it a crucial ally in the Cold War, and puts it squarely in the crosshairs of the simmering geopolitical showdown between the United States and China. Today the Philippine-American relationship is vexed by the murderous anti-drug campaign, foul language, and China-focused foreign policy of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who alarmed policy-makers in Washington when he tossed aside the decision of an international tribunal ruling against China’s island-grabbing tactics in Philippine-claimed waters of the South China Sea.

Drawing on interviews with officials in the Philippines as well as six months of first-hand experience living in the Philippines in 2017, spouses Michael Jordan and Dr. Krista Wiegand—a historian/filmmaker and political scientist, respectively—explain the historical context that brought the Philippines and U.S. to this point, and where things go from here.

Mr. Jordan’s presentation will explore the complex and fascinating history of America’s involvement in the Philippines, and explain how, in many ways, America has its own policies and actions to blame for the rise of Duterte. This survey will begin with America’s seizure of the island chain as a colony in the Spanish-American War, the bloody battles between American troops and Filipino insurgents in the years that followed, the sufferings and sacrifices of Filipinos during WWII, and the Philippines’ complicated relationship with the United States over the past seven decades. Mr. Jordan will also briefly compare Filipino and American culture, revealing the surprising ways in which this seemingly exotic nation is actually a very “American” place.

Dr. Wiegand’s presentation will focus on her depth experience studying conflict in the South China Sea, and the Philippines in particular. Despite continued wars in the Middle East and South Asia, in recent years the U.S. has turned its national security focus to East Asia, with the rise of China, the nuclear threat from North Korea, and the maritime disputes in the East and South China Sea threatening stable relations among U.S. allies and China. This “Asia pivot” strategy has led to an increase in U.S. naval forces in the region, heightened tensions with North Korea and China, and higher levels of bilateral and multilateral diplomacy between the U.S. and East Asian states, particularly its allies. The Philippines has been a close U.S. ally in the region since the end of American colonialization in 1946 and continues to play a major role in Southeast Asian issues. Due to its geostrategic location and archipelagic nature, U.S. interests in the Philippines are critical to U.S. interests in the region, particularly in containing China’s rise in power and reach further East into the Pacific. As one of the “pearls” in the string of pearls ranging from Japan to Australia, the Philippines is recognized by the U.S. as a strategically important ally that helps to contain China and promote U.S. power in the region. At the same time, under the Duterte presidency, the Philippine relationship with the U.S. has soured, and U.S. national security interests are unstable.

In the past few years, one of the most alarming actions that China has taken to spread its control and influence eastward and southward in the region is the occupation of reefs and shoals in the South China Sea, and the artificial construction of islands that are being militarized for use by China’s military. Several of these reefs and shoals are owned by the Philippines, as implicated by the 2016 UNCLOS arbitration ruling against China. This presentation will provide an examination of U.S. national security interests in the Philippines, the rise of Duterte and his policies, and how the South China Sea dispute between China and the Philippines in particular influences U.S. interests.


Dr. Krista E. Wiegand (Ph.D. Duke University) is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Global Security Program at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee. Dr. Wiegand specializes in international conflict management and political violence, specifically dispute resolution, territorial and maritime disputes, civil wars, political group violence, and East Asian security. She has written two books – Enduring Territorial Disputes: Strategies of Bargaining, Coercive Diplomacy, & Settlement (University of Georgia Press, 2011) and Bombs and Ballots: Governance by Islamic Terrorist and Guerrilla Groups (Routledge, 2010), edited another book – The China-Japan Border Dispute: Islands of Contention in a Multidisciplinary Perspective. (Routledge, 2015), and written more than 30 journal articles and book chapters. Dr. Wiegand was a Senior Fulbright Scholar in the Philippines in 2017 and is involved in a multi-university data collection project on identity claims and conflict funded by the Department of Defense Minerva Initiative. As Director of the Global Security Program at the Baker Center, she oversees faculty, post-doctoral, and graduate student fellows, coordinates policy research, hosts speakers from academia and policy makers, and works to engage the center with policy makers in Washington and elsewhere.

Michael Jordan is an award-winning historian, filmmaker, and author who has produced more than thirty original films about the history of Savannah and the surrounding area. Michael’s tenure in Savannah began when he anchored nightly newscasts on WSAV-TV 3, Savannah’s NBC affiliate, from 1997-2004. After leaving the TV station, Michael worked as a free-lance military correspondent, embedding with local troops at sea and in war zones including Iraq and Afghanistan. Most recently, Michael produced the official U.S. Army Corps of Engineers documentary about the archaeological recovery of the Civil War ironclad warship CSS Georgia. Currently, he is producing two short documentary films to be used in new exhibits planned at the Owens-Thomas House Museum in downtown Savannah. Michael is the author of Savannah Square by Square (Historic Savannah Foundation, 2015) and Hidden History of Civil War Savannah (The History Press, 2017). He is authoring a new guide book for the Isaiah Davenport House Museum.

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The Savannah Council on World Affairs is grateful for Morris & Templeton’s support.