The growing tension in the Taiwan Straits is testing Ferdinand Marcos Junior’s brinkmanship in foreign relations.

It is a tight balancing act between the country’s oldest military ally and former colonial master, the United States, and an emerging power in the region, China, with which Marcos wanted to be a good friend and neighbor.

In his weekend meeting with visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the highest American official to fly into Manila, Marcos might have shown his partiality to the Chinese when he downplayed Beijing’s saber-rattling activities around the self-ruled island.

“The visit of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, coming here, really just… I do not think, to be perfectly candid, I did not think it raised the intensity, it just demonstrated it – how the intensity of that conflict has been,” Marcos was quoted as saying during his one-on-one meeting with Blinken.

“It actually has been at that level for a good while, but we got used to it and put it aside.”

Marcos was trying to avoid being misinterpreted as taking sides in the brewing conflict in the Taiwan Straits and could have been playing down the tensions.

Blinken, for his part, was also dialing down the tensions but took a swipe at China’s irresponsible actions after Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

“So let me be clear, the United States doesn’t believe that it’s in the interest of Taiwan, the region, or our own national security to escalate the situation,” Blinken said.

In Manila, he accused Beijing of “irresponsible steps” by halting communication channels with Washington in eight areas, including the crucial military-to-military dialogue, which “are vital for avoiding miscommunication and avoiding crisis.”

Southeast Asian foreign ministers, who met in-person last week for the first time in Phnom Penh, had expressed serious concern after China launched live fire exercises in six locations around Taiwan.

Taiwan said the exercises were actually a simulation or rehearsal for a potential invasion of the island as well as attacks of US and Japanese forces nearby.

In his separate meeting with Blinken on Saturday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said the United States is an important ally, but looked at the “big powers to help calm the waters.”

“We can ill afford any further escalation of tensions,” he told Blinken.

There is a possibility the Philippines will be dragged into a big power conflict in the region when a shooting war erupts in Taiwan because of the country’s proximity.

The country has a mutual defense agreement with the United States and American forces are stationed in several local bases under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), making these locations a magnet for attacks.

There is real danger China can force a reunification with Taiwan. Beijing has more legitimate reasons to invade Taiwan than Russia crossing over Ukraine, a separate and sovereign state.

China considers Taiwan as a renegade province and the last territory it has no full control of. It already has recovered Tibet, Macau, and Hong Kong.

Beijing will not think twice of asserting its sovereignty on Taiwan but will slow down on its claims on other areas, like the South China Sea and the East China Sea.

China’s naval and air exercises around Taiwan were frightening as government websites in Taipei were simultaneously experiencing cyber attacks.

China has been displaying its military might, playing its nationalism card to galvanize support for Chinese honor and reputation in the face of difficult economic conditions back home.

China’s GDP declined to its lowest level under the weight of efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus and the collapsing banking and property industries.

A conflict could save China as it rallies the population to what it said was a just cause to invade Taiwan and punish any country that would meddle, including the United States.

This scenario has made Southeast Asian countries very nervous. Several countries outside the region, like Australia, Japan, and the United Kingdom, have also called on China not to overreact to Pelosi’s pit stop in Taiwan in her four-nation Asia swing last week.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) would like to remain in the middle of a conflict, offering to mediate because any war could disrupt economic activities in the region and derail recovery efforts from the pandemic.

Marcos’s remarks to Blinken downplaying the situation in Taiwan Straits ran counter to Asean’s collective sentiments about China’s provocative actions.

Beijing must be applauding Marcos’s remarks because the Philippine leader did not see disturbing developments in the region.

Like his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, Marcos is slowly showing where his loyalties are. Despite his rhetoric to defend every inch of the country’s territory and uphold the 2016 landmark legal victory at The Hague, Marcos could be another China lover.

It would be a big mistake if Marcos would continue Duterte’s appeasement policy towards China.

China has not done anything good for the Philippines except encroach on the country’s exclusive economic zone and deny local fishermen and the government the right to explore and exploit energy and fishery resources in disputed areas.

Taiwan has been a good neighbor, hosting 160,000 Filipino overseas workers. It has also donated military equipment, like F5 fighters, in the past.

The Philippines should stand by its oldest security ally, the United States, which has reiterated again and again its iron-clad commitment to defend the country in case of an aggression in the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippines should stand with the free world and join other countries in resisting China’s efforts to impose its will on self-ruled Taiwan. It’s time to revisit the One-China policy.