Caspian Region and the Philippines

I could hardly find any significant connection or relevance between the Philippines and the Caspian Sea region, or Central Asia for that matter. Besides the relatively small number of overseas Filipinos in Central Asia, particularly Kazakhstan, there’s virtually nothing that can turn a Filipino’s attention to a region miles away from the Philippines, literally and figuratively.

That might change though as energy security becomes an imperative for regions or countries that have minimal or no reserves of oil at all. As the scramble for oil in the Caspian escalates, where shall the Philippines position itself; or does it even have the interest to weave stronger connections with Central Asian states, and eventually reach for a Caspian connection? How relevant is this region to the Philippine’s national interests? And what are the major factors that connect the dots to emphasize the not-so-far and not-so-impossible links that may be forged between the Philippines and countries or immediate region surrounding the Caspian Sea?

In the first place, the Philippines’ major trade partners remain limited to the US, East Asia, and the Middle East.[1] It has only been in recent years that the Philippines have had minimal links with Central Asia due to the number of overseas Filipino workers. In terms of trade, balance between the Philippines and any given Central Asian state may be considered insignificant. This might change however as Central Asia is deemed to improve as a region due to the proven reserves of oil and natural gas, and related explorations. As a result of this, as in the case of the massive labor exodus to the Middle East in the 1970s, Filipinos might also eye labor migration to Central Asia.[2] This is possible in the next thirty years or so, just one generation. Though short a time, this may also seem long especially for seekers of rapid economic surge. Economic speculators would also assert that in less in than 40 years, oil in the Middle East might dry up; hence the need for alternative energy resources. If exploration in the Caspian region continues, and should larger deposits of oil and natural gas be discovered, then the Philippines must waste no time and strategy to forge economic diplomacy with the region. The next essential question would be: how?

Among the seven factors outlining the Caspian Sea region’s relevance to the Philippines that were detailed last session, I consider at least three as most significant. First, the Philippines does not have any significant market in Central Asia. That country with which the Philippines has economic connection and at the same time closest to Central Asia is Iran. RP-Iran trade relations remain significant because of oil. If diplomatic ties with Iran would be improved, this may serve as a stepping stone to forging at least trade ties with Central Asia, that seem ideal if tensions between Iran and any Central Asian state will not hamper negotiations and strategies. The problem at present, however, is the possibility of conflict escalation between Iran and Kazakhstan due to the oil factor. Another important component which may serve as the Philippines’ strategic access to Central Asia is the competence of Filipino migrant workers especially engineers whose expertise and training in their respective fields might be needed due to explorations. Apparently, demand for more skilled workers and engineers would also increase. Kazakhstan and the Philippines, for instance, have begun to develop relations in recent years. Lastly, ASEAN’s relations with Russia can also be considered a bridge for the Philippines to explore ties with Central Asia, formerly USSR satellite states. The only hazy part here is the premise in which Russia and Central Asian state interests and relations are located.

Indeed, as the Philippines flex its political, diplomatic, and economic muscles, it must not only maintain and improve its present relations with stable states but also reach out to and forge new relations with states and regions prospective of future importance. As Central Asia’s importance becomes the new thing in international economic relations especially in oil and gas trades, the Philippines has to flex its muscles even more to seize possibilities and opportunities. Expanding markets to economically strategic regions, people training and empowerment for competitive labor migration, and regional participation in the ASEAN for economic dynamism are just three of the most probable and apt tactics that the country may use as approaches to further its relations with Central Asia.

[1] In fact, this has already expanded in the 1970s when the government forged and developed strong diplomatic ties with the countries in these regions. Prior to this, more than 80% of the Philippines’ balance of trade is with its former colonial master, the US.

[2] This might happen only if the Philippines would remain a migrant exporter country, which is less likely in 30 years. By then, the Philippines might become one of the relatively more stable economies in Asia.


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