The report that China’s coast guard fired water cannon at Filipino fisherman to drive them away from the Scarborough Shoal last month highlights the continuing efforts of Beijing to assert control over the disputed territory in the West Philippine Sea.
No one was reported hurt in the incident, but one wonders how far the Chinese will go next time, if they will be firing bullets, instead of jets of water.
Tensions between Manila and Beijing have been building since the standoff between Philippine Navy and Chinese maritime surveillance vessels in Scarborough in April 2012. A team from Philippine Navy frigate had discovered a hoard of \o “Coral” corals, \o “Giant clam” giant clams and live \o “Shark” sharks in a Chinese fishing boat and tried to make an arrest. The Chinese government vessels interposed, and to prevent things from getting out of hand, the Navy ship retreated.
Since then China has become more aggressive in asserting its territorial rights in the West Philippine Sea.
The Philippines went before a United Nations arbitration court to challenge China’s claim, but Beijing refuses to take part in the proceedings.
The Philippines is not alone in trying to contest China’s expansionist drive in the West Philippine Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam have their own claims in the area and have had their own scrapes with the Chinese.
The water cannon incident forms an appropriate backdrop to the arrival of the commander of the US Navy Pacific Fleet in Manila for talks with Philippine officials centered on the implications of America’s “repivot to Asia” policy. The new US thrust calls for a more robust American military presence in the region to counter China’s push towards the Pacific. The Philippines is strategically significant in the US plan and there are negotiations between Manila and Washington for a rotational stationing of American troops on Philippine soil.
Beijing no doubt will be keenly watching the negotiations, curious about the extent of US involvement in Asia-Pacific affairs.
How deep the US is willing to immerse itself in the region should be a question our own officials must ask the US Navy Pacific Fleet commander. They specifically need to know how far Washington will stick its neck out for the Philippines if ever a confrontation with China breaks out.
It’s comforting to have the US by our side, but we have to be crystal clear about one thing: when push comes to shove, America will look after its interests first, and understandably so. In the present global scheme of things, expediency is the rule of thumb. US President Obama took a lot of heat for delaying his decision early on in the Syrian conflict, when there was small window for a military action against Bashar al-Assad.
Do not expect, therefore, the US to send in its fighter jets in behalf of the Philippines if the confrontation in the West Philippine Sea with China erupts into a shooting war.
The bottom line is it’s nice to have a superpower for an ally, but we must realize that we must not rely forever on someone else’s shield. Our ally must be there only to help us develop our own shield.
We are, after all, a sovereign nation. As such, we must be able to defend ourself.