CHINA can slowly acquire more territory through its expansionist stance in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and later “absorb the region,” a geopolitics expert said.
Rodger Baker, vice president for East Asia and the Pacific of Stratfor, said Beijing’s expansionism is “political, not military,” since none of the countries claiming ownership of small islands in the region will risk military action.
“So China can slowly absorb the region,” Baker said during the Business Forum organized by The Manila Times.
“Certainly, building structure on the islands prevents others from doing the same, and in time of relative peace may give China slightly easier and more robust capabilities for maritime surveillance,” the Stratfor analyst explained.
“But the main purpose of occupying the islands is not military. It is political,” he said.
Beijing’s “ownership” of the islands is further bolstered by the fact that it faces no concrete challenge.
“This strengthens the reality of Chinese possession,” Baker pointed out.
China’s highly dynamic movements in the disputed territories, he further explained, changes the political reality there by easily redirecting attention when tensions arise.
“When tensions rise too high with a particular country, China can ease off, shift attention to a different country, or just use the perception of heightened tensions to drive a desire for an easing of stress,” Baker said.
While the United States and other “extra-regional allies” have expressed the desire for a legal settlement of the maritime disputes, these countries “are not going to intervene on behalf of Southeast Asian nations,” he added.
“In China’s perspective, [it]will lead to a realignment of political relations where the Southeast Asian nations will find accommodation with China more beneficial than attempts to oppose Chinese expansion,” Baker said.
He observed that while China’s unprecedented growth has pushed it to become a world economic superpower, it lags behind in terms of “soft power expansion.”
“The disconnect between China’s economic strength and the security role assumed by others—namely the United States—highlights the imbalance of power in the region. In some ways, it has benefited Asean [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] countries, giving Asean states the ability to play off the big power competition for their own benefit,” the Stratfor official said.
Baker asserted that China will not “dominate” its smaller neighbors as colonial powers did in the past.
“China is hoping to simply draw in their cooperation and concessions, a recreation of the ages-old Chinese system of regional political management,” he said.
Also, according to Baker, Beijing cannot afford to have a confrontation with the Philippines because it would run counter to its maritime interests in the region.
“The Philippines is a US treaty ally, and thus seen as part of a US containment strategy to hold China in. There is plenty of room for expanded economic cooperation with China, despite the political speed bumps.”