CHINA is a bully in the contested West Philippine Sea. Could it be tamed by a small country like the Philippines?
China’s massive reclamation work in the WPS it justifies as an exercise of sovereignty shows that it’s obeying only what it considers its national interest and no friends can stop it, especially a puny country like the Philippines. What was that joke again that if all Chinese would pee at the same time, the Philippines would be flooded?
Understandably, the Armed Forces of the Philippines believes this reclamation work constitutes a “clear and present danger” in the WPS, as China could restrict passage thru the contested waters once it completes its reclamation project. (President BS Aquino The Last doesn’t see the situation as that critical for he has refused to convene the National Security Council to tackle this powder keg of an issue.)
This fear was heightened last week when China’s Coast Guard used water cannons to drive away Filipino fishermen from the area.
Friendship was far from the mind of one Chinese leader who had the gall to ask the Philippines “to educate its fishermen about Chinese territory.” In the past, numerous Chinese fishermen were caught poaching in Philippine waters and our officials never said anything as insulting as this.
Lt. Gen. Antonio Sotelo (ret.), former AFP vice chief of staff, says that the Philippines should stop preparing the Navy and Air Force for conventional war by procuring weapons like warplanes, warships and radars.
“We may multiply the ships, planes and radars by tens and we will not even dent the balance of power with China. By any measure, we can’t match China’s in conventional fire power. We should be more practical rather than be carried away in pursuit of a macho image,” he said.
How then should the Philippines face the bullying tactics of China?
“Follow the example set by Vietnam,” Sotelo proposes.
China and Vietnam have overlapping claims in the Paracels and Vietnam is not backing off. Here’s how Vietnam is addressing the conflict with China, according to Sotelo, whose defection from Marcos was the turning point in EDSA 1.
“Without fanfare, Vietnam is developing its armed forces based on submarines and small boats. In contrast, we are developing our defense capability based on surface ships, fighter planes and radars,” he noted.
He sees the wisdom and logic in Vietnam’s military scheme.
“Submarines could be deployed undetected in ambush positions across the vast expanse of the sea, thereby sowing apprehension to the adversary. Small boats could sward the enemy, fire missiles or torpedoes, then withdraw to their sanctuary. Surely, they are vulnerable but one of the many may get through to its target,” he explained.
He cited examples in history where the weak won over the strong by employing unconventional warfare.
“The Bible tells us how shepherd David killed the warrior Goliath with a sling shot. In recent history, there was Vietnam winning against the United States. Today, Al Qaeda is fighting the United States without a navy, air force or a standing party. One thing we must remember is that the sophistication of the strong is its own vulnerability,” Sotelo said.
He favors the granting of basing facilities to the forces of Philippine allies who have interests in the area and who are capable of standing up to China’s growing naval capability. I don’t think this is feasible, as it needs an amendment of the Constitution. There are many, however, who are saying the Philippines now needs American and Japanese assistance and are regretting that the Philippine Senate terminated the bases treaty with the US.
I hope our military strategists and defense officials would seriously consider his proposals, except that of providing basing facilities for foreign troops.
Oh yes, he added that aside from its proven effectiveness against stronger opponents, unconventional warfare also entails smaller expense. When I heard this addendum, I began to entertain doubts that his proposal would ever see the light of day. Our AFP modernization program almost always entails the purchase of the more expensive weapons, ships, radars and planes. And more often than not, they’re not only overpriced but also virtually useless in actual combat.