In the Pacific Ocean’s chessboard, the Philippines are one of numerous flag-bearers, but their location can be useful to the most prized chess pieces on the field. Obama benefited from this, as he obtained the best compensation for his Asian tour from Manila: a defense agreement that de facto concedes military bases, a precious instrument that verbose conversations with Tokyo, Seoul, and Kuala Lumpur were unable to match. For the next ten years, US ships will be able to dock in certain Philippine ports, airplanes can land on runways, and personnel will be stationed in bases. To elude their own constitutional mandates, the Philippine signatories maintained that management of the bases will be exclusively national and the US armed forces will be present “in rotation.” Obama reassured Beijing: the decision is not against any country, but in the favor of the legality of international maritime controversies. Like a Pavlovian response, analysts immediately thought of the contested Scarborough Shoal and Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands. No special acumen was necessary: a war of proclamations and strategic positioning between China and the Philippines is being waged over those rocks. Tensions, propaganda, skirmishes, threats, and intimidations are the typical ingredients of a rather frequent cocktail in those seas: the tensions between Southeast Asian countries and China, of which the dispute with the Philippines and Vietnam has reached rather dangerous levels. China has reaffirmed its sovereignty to validate the “nine-dotted line,” a geographical demarcation that would draw its southern boundary thousands of miles from its coast. Other countries bordering the South China Sea are obviously concerned by China’s claims. They have no choice but to turn to the United States. For Vietnam, it means writing a new chapter after its reunification war; for the archipelago it means reviving a strategic alliance, born with the post-Spanish colonization and the liberation from Japanese occupation during WWII. The Philippines has been a loyal US ally, but in 1991—just at the end of the Cold War—nationalist politics chose to close the bases in Clark and Subic Bay, traditional US outposts in Asia. The reasons for returning to the past are obviously numerous and interconnected, but one prevails and summarizes the others: the fear of China. The foreign minister, Albert del Rosario—ex ambassador to Washington—did not spare and frankness when he affirmed that naval clashes with China in 2012 gave the Philippines the determination to deepen military ties with the US. It’s an indubitable success for Obama, while the decision has unleashed protests from Beijing. The chess match continues, even if the moves are predictable. China could easily have imagined that flexing its muscles would have consigned the Philippines into the hands of an even more powerful adversary. Stubbornness won over negotiations, and nationalism defeated lengthy diplomacy. In the passing of seasons, the Middle Kingdom could have made the fear it inspires count. Now the deadlock continues, the islands are still contested, but US troops will return to 200 km from the battle theater.