CHINA may have stirred more than a hornet’s nest when, in a speech before an Asean group in Taguig City last week, Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned non-regional forces not to interfere in any activity in the South China Sea, which is teeming with maritime territorial disputes. He was apparently referring to the United States, the world’s lone superpower and dominant presence in the Western Pacific, but which China likes to regard as an outsider poaching in an inland lake.
Were it to be weaponized, this warning could lead to grave consequences. How could the Chinese Navy, for instance, prevent the US 7th Fleet from patrolling the sea lanes and clearing them of human traffickers and pirates or conducting naval exercises with Japanese, Indian or Philippine naval forces under their existing defense and security agreements? Ironically, China’s position, as articulated by Wang Yi, seems to rest not on any nine-dash line-formula, but rather on historic precedent coming from the United States.
The Monroe Doctrine
In 1823, when Portuguese and Spanish colonies in Latin America were claiming their independence from Portugal and Spain, US President James Monroe declared that the US would consider it dangerous to its security and peace if the European powers tried to extend their system to any portion of the American hemisphere; it would view any European “interposition” on any independent Latin American state for the purpose of oppressing it or controlling its destiny as “the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.”
The full document was written by then Secretary of State and future President John Quincy Adams, and became known as the Monroe Doctine. The phrase itself was not coined until 1850. The British Empire and the political and military leaders of Latin America all welcomed the Doctrine. The Latins included Simon Bolivar, the “Liberator,” who led the fight for independence of Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Panama; Francisco de Paula Santander who became president of Gran Colombia; Bernardino Rivadavia who became president of the United Provinces of Rio de la Plata, later known as Argentina; and Guadalupe Victoria, the first president of the United Mexican States.
However, Prince Klemens von Metternich, chancellor of Austria from 1821 to 1848 and one of the most important diplomats of his time, called it “an act of private revolt” on the part of the US, which could grant “new strength to the apostles of sedition and reanimate the courage of every conspirator.”
In 1842, President John Tyler, the 10th US vice president who became president upon the death of President William Henry Harrison, applied the Monroe Doctrine to the Kingdom of Hawaii and warned the British not to interfere there. Hawaii was not annexed by the US until July 12, 1898 after the outbreak of the Spanish-American war when it became indispensable as a US base in fighting the war. It remained a US territory until 1959 when it became the 50th US state.
In 1845, President James Polk expanded the scope of the Monroe Doctrine to mean that no European power shall interfere in America’s expansion of its sphere of influence under its “Manifest Destiny.”
In 1862, the French invaded and conquered Mexico and installed a puppet monarch, Emperor Maximillian. The US denounced it as a violation of the Monroe Doctrine, but was too busy fighting a civil war (1861-1865), and did nothing about it. In 1865, it stationed a large combat army on the Mexican border and demanded that the French vacate. The French pulled out, and Mexican nationalists executed Maximilian.
Apparently, as a function of the special relations between Britain and the US, the latter took no action when the former colonized Belize in 1862 and renamed it British Honduras. But in 1870, US President Ulysses Grant declared that “hereafter no territory on this continent (Central and South America) shall be regarded as subject to transfer to a European power.” Grant tried but failed to annex the Dominican Republic that year.
In 1898, the US supported Cuba, a Carribean island on the Gulf of Mexico, in its war of independence against Spain. This became known as the Spanish-American War. Spain lost the war and ceded Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam in exchange for $20 million. Cuba remained under US control until 1902, when it won its independence. It is in Cuba, 64 years later, where the Monroe Doctrine would exact its heaviest toll and threaten nuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union.
In 1952, General Fulgencio Batista deposed President Carlos Prio in a coup and ruled with an iron hand. Prio went into exile in Miami, Florida, which is no more than 90 miles from Havana. There the July 26 Movement was born, led by the Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul. In 1959, the Cuban revolution was launched, toppling Batista and putting Fidel Castro in power. Castro quickly linked up with the Soviet Union, breaking up the US monolithic ideological hold on the hemisphere. President Dwight Eisenhower saw trouble coming from Castro, so in 1960 he allocated $13.1 million to the Central Intelligence Agency to plan Castro’s overthrow. Eisenhower, however, had no time to implement the plan and left it to John F. Kennedy, his successor.
The real test, Cuba
On April 1, 1961 the invasion plan against Castro was approved. This involved 1,400 Cuban exiles (all paramilitaries) assembled in Nicaragua and Guatemala, and grouped into five infantry battalions and one paratroopers battalion, known as Brigade 2506. On April 15, 1961, eight CIA-supplied B26 bombers attacked Cuban airfields and then returned to the US. On April 16, 1961, the invasion force landed at Playa Giron at Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs). In the beginning, they seemed to have the upper hand, but after Fidel Castro took command of his troops, the battle quickly turned against the invaders. At the same time, the CIA role in the invasion became plain to all, forcing Kennedy to withhold the planned US aerial and naval bombardments.
On April 20, 1961, after three days of fighting, the invaders surrendered.
The failed invasion led Castro to cozy up even more to the USSR. Moscow offered and he agreed to host Soviet missiles on Cuban soil, as a self-defense measure. A US U-2 spy plane was able to photograph a Soviet SS-4 medium-range ballistic missile being assembled for installation at a missile site. On August 29, 1962, Kennedy invoked the Monroe Doctrine to denounce the Soviet activities on the island. This had little or no effect on the planned deployment of Soviet missiles.
On October 22, 1962, Kennedy announced in a TV address his decision to institute a naval quarantine on Cuba to prevent Soviet ships from transporting offensive weapons to the island.
On October 23, the quarantine began.
On October 24, the incoming Soviet ships appeared to slow down or turn back or head elsewhere as they approached the quarantine. At the same time all the world leaders were frantically appealing to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and Kennedy to explore all possibilities of avoiding a nuclear confrontation, which seemed to grow increasingly imminent by the hour. At the command of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, the US military forces had gone to DEFCON2, the highest military alert ever reached in the postwar era.
On October 25, the Soviet ships failed to cross the quarantine except for the Soviet tanker Bucharest, which did not appear to be carrying any offensive weapons, and which was intercepted by the aircraft carrier USS Essex and the destroyer USS Gearing.
On October 26, Kennedy learned that the work at the Soviet missile site in Cuba had not been interrupted, prompting him to consider invading Cuba. But on the same day, Khrushchev transmitted a proposal on how to end the missile crisis. The Soviet Union would dismantle its missile site in exchange for a US commitment not to invade its next-door neighbor.
On October 28, Khrushchev announced the dismantling of all offensive weapons in Cuba. For its part, the US dismantled its anti-Soviet missiles in Turkey, in addition to its pledge not to invade Cuba, In November, Kennedy announced the end of the Cuban blockade. The British philosopher Bertrand Russell, in his small book, Unarmed Victory, was among those who gave Khrushchev the credit for saving the world from nuclear war.
China’s own Monroe
Now the shoe is on the other foot. Where the US had invoked the Monroe Doctrine to stop the deployment of Soviet missiles in Cuba, it is now China who is invoking its own Monroe Doctrine on the US to limit its involvement in the South China Sea. The problem is a tad complicated, not only for the US and China, but also for the Philippines, which is caught in-between.
The US has been the main peacekeeper in the Asia Pacific, of which the South China Sea is but a part, and the rest of the world for the last two centuries; and it is China, the native Asian power, that is just beginning to claim its rightful place. In the competition for “spheres of influence,” even the experts are divided—some of them seem to believe China must now take the place of the US, but as many, if not more, seem to believe China is not even seeking parity with, much less superiority to, the US, but mere “equivalence.” It does not seek to replace the US, but merely wants its rights as a rising power to be recognized and respected.
Our problem, as the odd man in the middle, has little to do with how the two big actors look at each other—are they competitors or collaborators?—but rather how we look at ourselves.
Last week, President Rodrigo Duterte said Chinese missiles from the South China Sea are already pointed at us, and could reach Manila in seven minutes. But Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano assures us, on behalf of China, that these missiles are strictly meant for self-defense and should pose no threat to us. This is the most awful lot of nonsense one has ever heard—and from the nation’s foreign secretary at that. If what DU30 says has any truth in it, what Cayetano is saying is the most dangerous drivel imaginable, and there is no reason in the world why he should remain in office one minute longer after saying it.
In Cuba, Castro had every reason to want to point Soviet missiles at the US after the failed CIA-backed invasion. But for the fact that the missiles were being outsourced from America’s arch-nemesis at the time, and the missiles could be used for offense as well as defense, Castro could be justified in wanting to have missiles pointed at the source of the failed Cuban invasion. In our case, what have we done to China to justify its pointing its ballistic missiles at us?
And what makes our highest foreign affairs official accept, and repeat, without any reservation the claim that these Chinese missiles pointing at our gut are purely for self-defense? Have we allowed the US to secretly deploy nuclear missiles on our soil, in defiance of the explicit constitutional ban on nuclear weapons in our territory, while declaring that we have not allowed any such thing? If this indeed is the case and Alan Peter Cayetano is fully aware of it, yet has not denounced it, then he may be answerable for some rather high crime—not just once but at least twice.