• After the UN case, Duterte calls the US-China match

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    [Second of three parts]

    WITH the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling for the Philippines in its case challenging China’s “nine-dash line” claim over most of the South China Sea, the geopolitical ball is now in Rodrigo Duterte’s court.

    How the Philippines’ new President plays would impact the next round of high-stakes rivalry between America and China for preeminence in East Asia.

    Why Duterte? How can the leader of a nation with the weakest military in the region call the shots in the match between China—with the largest armed forces on the planet—and the United States, which has the most powerful?

    Ask Washington’s former ambassador to Manila Kristie Kenney. Now a high-ranking State Department counselor, the veteran diplomat is in town to meet with top officials.

    Her likely mission: to keep the US-Philippines alliance intact, and to ensure that the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) boosting American forces in the archipelago and giving them access to Philippine bases stays on track.

    That’s the big if in Sino-American rivalry that President Duterte now holds in his raised fist: Will he implement the EDCA in full, prompting China to escalate even more its South China Sea forces as a counterweight to US deployment in the Philippines?

    The confrontation scenario
    So what’s looming in Round 2 of the US-China bout? Let’s look at three scenarios: confrontation, conciliation, and collective security.

    The confrontation scenario assumes the continued adversarial stance of the Philippines and its allies toward China, and vice-versa. With the PCA giving international legal teeth to our nation’s claims under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, there will be even greater political, public, media and international impetus for the Duterte administration to push hard against Beijing in the South China Sea, despite our President’s avowed wish to mend fences with the Chinese.

    Kenney’s visit and US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s call to his new Philippine counterpart will likely be followed by similar exhortations from Japan and other allies for Duterte to maintain the assertive course.

    If he bites, then the coming years, if not decades, would see even more tension and military buildup in the South China Sea—possibly even a shooting war.

    With US forces rotating in the Philippines and establishing facilities in five bases, the People’s Liberation Army cannot but further escalate its naval and air deployment on the high seas. The PLA must protect the mainland and its vital sea lanes in the South China Sea, where four-fifths of Chinese oil imports pass—both within range of nuclear-capable cruise missiles on American vessels and aircraft in the archipelago.

    As China expands military-capable facilities in the Spratlys, the US would likely send more ships and planes to monitor and challenge Chinese actions, especially those asserting territorial rights voided by the PCA ruling, or imposing restrictions on vessels and aircraft. The latter includes the feared declaration of an air defense identification zone like the ADIZ imposed in the East China Sea in 2013.

    In this cauldron of geopolitical and military rivalry, accidents and miscalculations would be more and more likely, triggering violent incidents. These conflicts would then provoke even more animosity, one-upmanship, arms escalation, and confrontation—especially if the peoples of rival powers get more agitated and pressed for aggressive actions.

    Amid this intensifying rivalry, the Philippines would be a frontline state, whose territory would necessarily be targeted by Chinese ballistic missiles ready to neutralize US forces in the archipelago, plus the Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, Nueva Ecija, Palawan, and Pampanga bases used by them.

    China would treat the Philippines as America did Cuba, which nearly hosted Russian nukes, just as we now harbor nuclear-capable US naval and air assets. One possible target of Beijing’s reprisal: 170,000 Filipino domestic helpers in Hong Kong.

    With all this looming in the confrontation scenario, one can see why Duterte may prefer talking with Beijing.

    The conciliation scenario
    If our Commander-in-Chief takes his avowed conciliatory approach toward China, that should moderate tensions, at least in the short term and maybe longer.

    For one thing, the Philippines would not accept any deal that does not enhance the security of the country and its maritime economic zones and claimed territories. Without giving up its territorial claims, China would need to accept protocols to prevent encroachments and confrontations like those in Mischief Reef and Scarborough Shoal.

    Also likely to be a Philippine demand is an end or slowdown in the buildup of military-capable Chinese facilities in the South China Sea, as well as reclamation and other maritime activities, which the PCA ruled to be in violation of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone rights under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

    For its part, Beijing would press for the removal of US forces from the Philippines—a demand far more urgent than its territorial claims, since the nuclear-armed Seventh Fleet poses grave threats to China and its shipping, including nuclear attack.

    Washington and Tokyo would, of course, vehemently oppose scrapping the EDCA, which would set back the transfer of 60 percent of American naval assets to East Asia under the Pivot-to-Asia strategy deemed crucial for the defense of US allies.

    In this contest over the EDCA’s future, expect China, the US and Japan to woo the Philippines with economic assistance as well as trade and investment, plus security-enhancing initiatives, including the above-mentioned mechanisms to avoid encroachments and limit maritime militarization.

    If Duterte leans toward China, as his leftist allies would favor, expect Beijing to pour capital, commerce, tourism, and aid into the country to further enhance ties and give Filipinos less reason to fear the Chinese and bring in the Americans.

    As for Washington and Tokyo, they and Western media would not take kindly to an EDCA about-face. Aid and trade favors may dwindle, and criticism of Duterte could mount. In an extreme situation, he could be ousted.

    The first part was published last Tuesday. The last part will run next Tuesday.

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    12 Comments

    1. Mariano Patalinjug on

      Yonkers, New York
      14 July 2016

      With China reacting like a wounded bully after the PCA handed down its ruling which is favorable to the Philippines and moreover because the PCA ruled China’s arrogant and reckless “Nine-Dash Line” is illegal under International Law [UNCLOS], anything can happen, as Ricardo Saludo points out in his column in The Manila Times of July 13.

      A trigger for a clash of arms between China and the United States allied with Japan and the Philippines [and possibly also Australia] will be if China makes good its threat to impose an ADIZ over the South China Sea–which could seriously impede navigation in the SCS through which an estimated $5 trillion in trade passes annually, including oil from the Middle East.

      In the event, the US is already well-prepared for that eventuality. Under President Obama’s “Rebalance,” 60 percent of US Naval Forces are now already deployed in Asia; specifically 6 of the US’s Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carrier STRIKE FORCES are now in Asia. Two of these, the USS John C.Stennis and the USS Ronald Reagan are already engaged in drills in the Philippine Sea–and are also making FONOPS in international waters in the South China Sea.

      If China is truly intent on military confrontation with the US, there is a very good chance that the US will gladly oblige.

      MARIANO PATALINJUG
      patalinjugmar@gmail.com

    2. I was an arbitrator in New York City and it was fundamental that both parties must agree and sign to proceed. When China refused to participate the tribunal insisted to proceed. Has there been changes to this fundamental rule in arbitration?

    3. Oh, NO!!!! The Pinoy and Pinay OFW’s working in China have to come home, oh, no!!! (Will China also send home the Pinoy and Pinay drug mules in their jails? Sana naman….)

    4. Wolfgang Struck on

      Awfully good article. Nothing to add, nothing to subtract. Except maybe a little bit of gold, of Chinese origin mostly, stolen in China by the Japanese, brought here as Yamashita Treasure, and guarded by the Americans, denying the mere existence of it. So, Filipinos do not know and cannot do anything. On that island, China has a new technology that allows them to control what the US of A are doing in RP. That is too close for comfort.

      The verdict? B-S started it, the outcome is pure bull manure. Who are they? What do they know about life in Asia? What did we win? Who will get what? Filipinos should ask their share. China out? They might send the maids home, 170,000 who will not send money home. RP will get bankrupt in 5 minutes. WES

    5. Migs Doromal on

      You forgot the main reason why China must seize control of the South China sea – its massive underground nuclear submarine YULIN Naval Base.

    6. Ignacio Balbutin on

      China’s economy is slowing down and the more they cannot afford to go to war because it will wipe out their economy. The US is in the west Philippine sea for its own interest and also to protect its allies from the bullying of the chinese. Philippines can not deny the influence of the US in the country, we have long histories regarding our relations with the US which goes as far back as from 16th century when the US freed us from Spanish domination. For sure the US will overtake China in terms of the economy sooner or later. China will not fire a shot on the US forces knowing full well the might of the US forces. As far as China’s investment in the country it can easily be replaced by many other investors from the West and Europe. We have nothing to fear against China and we have to consolidate our relations with the US and western countries because they are our real friends

    7. Matino na Pinoy on

      There will be a huge confrontation between China and U.S. and the way I look at it, the U.S. will not back down. The International Tribunal has declared that China’s claim “nine dash” line has no legal basis. Secondly, The U.S. doctrine states that “The U.S. will continue to sail, fly over on any International Waters and Airspaces and where the Laws allow them”, meaning, the U.S. does not recognize what China is trying to do. The “nine dash” line will choke or block the “freedom of navigation in the International Waters in South China Sea.

      Few years ago, China have redrawn their ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone) in East China Sea, in the hope that the Japanese will back down on their claim on the islands, which is simultaneously claimed by Japan, as well. The U.S. and Japan did not recognize the Chinese effort and up to this day, Japan and the U.S. continue to sail and fly and sail freely in the area. The Japanese are in control of the disputed Islands and it seems like the Chinese has abandoned their efforts and moved their efforts and resources to the south china sea, where the neighboring countries in the south are small and weak.

      This is the reason why an emissary from the U.S. checking on the Military Bases, that can freely be used by U.S. Forces in the event that confrontation can no longer avoided. Those artificial islands created by China would give them reasons to redraw their ADIZ, and choke or block the International Waters, and the freedom of navigation will no longer exist. Meaning, the ships that sail or aircrafts that used to fly over freely, must call Chinese Navy, identifying themselves and their intention entering into their territory, and wait until their request is granted before they can proceed. U. S. response to this is ” it cannot happen and we make sure that this shall not happen”.

    8. I guess Jun et al can use the coming thirty days to take a crash course in geopolitics and diplomacy. A better perspective is to view the dynamics from the prism of Marxism, Leninism and Mao Tse Tung Thought. That will allow the analyst to think within the framework of the tsainis psyche which directs taainis govt policy and disect US moves from its grasp of what constitute “US imperialism”. From the mental synthesis, policy decisions therefrom will need to be tempered with business decisions that shall generate jobs and promote poverty alleviation initiatives. Note that the real power in that fiefdom is never from the bureaucratic aparatsik but lies on those royal families that control those Heritage Funds, the Dragon Family included. Somehow, the Marcos Alley may just have to be trodded thru the labyrinth. The high stakes show may just be a facade for the US to get access to assetsit needs to use to back up a forthcoming budgetary necessity.

      But then, I expect that this retort may again be censored under the guisee of moderation.

      • Francis Jarrett on

        The only way is to do economic sabotage to China,move all those multinational companies somewhere else in the ASEAN countries.Tingnan ko lang di sila babalik sa pinanggalingan nila they are nothing without the free trade agreement or globalization.

    9. I rather stay with the us camp. Why china when the USA is still the leader in the west and still has economic power and influence in Europe and Japan.

      • note that our number one and largest trading partner is China. phils should not take side. we should architect our own foreign policy. the important thing is we should not allienate both.

    10. Roger Purdue on

      Thank you, Mr. Saludo. What a good article, objectively laying out the pros and cons of different strategies.