The Manila Times recently headlined “China taking de facto sea control,” quoting a United States admiral on the Chinese build-up of bases, missiles, runways, radar stations in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
More recently, the US has warned that it would counter Chinese moves “tit for tat” perhaps suggesting more effective actions than regular naval patrols close to China’s artificial islands to assert international freedom of navigation.
The South China Sea, not excluding our portion of it, the West Philippine Sea, is without doubt in a messy and dangerous situation. The danger lies, as I see it, in that circumstances have placed China in a position and direction from which it cannot back out much as we and the world may wish the contrary. The way out may lie in first confronting this situation. Otherwise former Chief Justice Panganiban in marking the South China Sea as a flashpoint towards World War III may prove to be more of a seer than an alarmist.
Geopolitics has made Russia since the time of Catherine the Great itch to rule over the Crimea and the Ukraine, has inspired the United Kingdom to tie its former colonies to the British Commonwealth of Nations, in perpetuity; and has impelled the United States since George Dewey in 1898 to remain in our shores, despite the termination of the 1947 RP-US Military Bases Agreement in 1991.
China may ask, why should it not be tempted to enclose within its Air Defense
Identification Zone (Adiz) or sphere of influence and control not only the Sinkaku islands occupied by Japan and some submerged rocks claimed by South Korea in the East China Sea, but also the islands and features it claims in the South China Sea? After all, before China made its Adiz in the East China Sea, Japan and South Korea already proclaimed their own respective Adizes over the same Sinkakus and sunken rocks in the East China Sea, emulating the Adizes issued by the United States over its contiguous zones, Hawaii and Guam.
If America sees its old doctrine of “America for the Americans ” valid, why should China’s position in the South China Sea be less correct? And if America’s occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan appears honorable, why should a conquest by China of the “nine-dash-line” be less upright? Now being kicked out even by now staunch ally Japan from Okinawa and by the Afghans from their impoverished country, abandoning Iraq after despoiling the land, and considering its tight budget, the United States has made a tactical paradigm shift, to “pivot” to Asia-Pacific, marked, to begin with, by 60 percent of its navy continuously patrolling the USA, the Philippines, Singapore and Australia.
As a superpower putatively in global terms and already such regionally, China’s backing off the South China Sea will not only mean loss of territory but also what’s more important in the Asian sense of values, loss of face.
China has run berserk in the West Philippine Sea after the Philippines accepted to be an instrument of realizing the US “pivot”. The administration of President Benigno Aquino 3rd entered into the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), without much deliberation, without concurrence by the Senate as called for by the Constitution. With one stroke, it has turned the country into one big US military base, thus reversing the long and arduous struggle the country underwent to reduce bit by bit the territory once overwhelmingly covered by the US military facilities.
PNoy thereby joins the lineup of our presidents who made us a “protectorate” of America.
One was Manuel Roxas who pledged “to follow in the glistening wake of America.” The policy was ultra vires since the 1935 Constitution with the annexed Tydings-McDuffie Act, proclaimed a ban on foreign military bases, and announced the possible “neutralization” of the Philippines. Another was President Cory Aquino whose 1987 Constitution enshrines proscription on “foreign military bases, troops or facilities” and mandates reliance on an “independent foreign policy” but who abandoned those policies in championing in 1991 the continued presence of US military facilities in the country.
The EDCA taunts China, without assuring our country, as admitted before the Supreme Court by PNoy’s alter egos Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Solicitor Gen Florin Hilbay, that America will repel an attack against the Philippines outside the terms of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty. We have to fend for ourselves, but alas, our prolonged dependence upon the military talons of the American Eagle, by denying us the opportunity for military preparedness and modernization, has made us a weak and weakling state.
The course of action that the Philippine leadership has chosen has thrown the country into “the quarrels of the strong” both armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons. With the nuclear horror dropping on us not an impossible prospect, the great Claro M. Recto may be proven right in saying that we are “a race with a mysterious urge to suicide.” The grim promise of US General Marshall that in the event of a nuclear war in the region “the Philippines has to be sacrificed” may likewise come to pass.
Quite rightly, the Philippines has haled China before the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) arbitration tribunal at The Hague, regarding the issues of China’s ridiculous “nine-dash line” and of the West Philippine Sea. We must predict though that a decision in favor of the Philippines would not be recognized by China, following the example of Israel over the Israeli-occupied Arab territories in Palestine. However, in the course of time, with international law coming out of the jungle, the Philippines or what remains of it, would be vindicated.
The writer Nelson D. Laviña is a retired ambassador of the Philippines.