Third and last part of this 3-part series
THE strategic objective of the Mindanao-based Bishops-Ulama conference was to make sure that the Muslim- Christian conflict in Mindanao does not escalate beyond the MNLF-AFP, or MILF-AFP skirmishes and graduate into a full blown religious war between Muslims and Christian communities. What is developing in Mindanao today is the possibility of a new religious initiated brand of violence, that will affect not only Christian communities but Muslim communities as well.
Today’s religious dialogue must go beyond the inter-faith level. Aside from current Christian-Muslim encounters, intra-faith dialogue should also be encouraged. A dialogue among Muslims themselves should proceed in earnest. Christians have to do the same.
The “caliphate world view” does not attack other religions only but fellow Muslims as well who do not adhere to their world view. The latter are labelled as infidels and are equally at risk of being targeted as the object of their wrath. Muslims of various political persuasions must jointly protect their constituencies from this new evil that is threathening the entire Islamic world. Christian religious leaders should make sure that the fear and apprehensions of their constituencies do not lead them to inflict violence and particularly on the wrong party, because of bias and ignorance. Christians, Catholics and non-Catholics, must have a common understanding of the risks and folly of engaging in violence.
2. The current state of our relations with China
The United States, being the de-facto protector of the world, is of course alarmed at the phenomenal economic growth of China and its consequent pursuit of a world capability for its defense establishment. President Benigno Aquino at the very beginning of his term may have stumbled unintentionally into a situation of causing an unnecessary and totally avoidable irritation to China. As if by strategic design, this irritation has caused China to exploit its territorial conflict with the Philippines as a possible casus belli for a major confontation. This affects the security of the entire region. Thus the United States has expressed growing concern.
A. Providing the basis for a China-US confrontation in Asia
The forward territorial defense strategy of China is no secret. It is to establish defense footholds even in areas where its territorial claim is strongly disputed. There was no pronounced effort to assert this strategy in the past. Our relationship with China was friendly and seemed to be founded on mutual respect. On certain occasions, when China attempted to develop a foothold within our claimed borders, the response of our Armed forces had been swift and conclusive.
Since then China has become a world power. Its decision to undertake reclamations in disputed maritime territory and establish its forward territorial defense complex within our claimed borders is apparently encouraged by our clumsiness in the conduct of our foreign affairs. Moreover, China has to contend with its own problems at home, vis-à-vis the overwhelming US presence. To avoid criticism at home, and loss of face outside, China had to take action to be on par with the United States in its initiatives in the Pacific. It is clearly a US and China contest.
Unfortunately we are caught right in the middle, and both the US and China are using the issues we raised in the international arena as their justification for being engaged.
We are asking the United States to deploy some of its more sophisticated weapons system on Philippine soil to help prevent China’s growing incursions into our claimed territories. We look to our defense treaty with the Unites States in order to be assured of an automatic US retaliatory response should the conflict with China break down into open hostilities. But these overtures for military support should now be examined with utmost care. The fundamental question is not whether the United States will respond positively to our requests for assistance, but rather whether we are asking for the correct type of assistance. Should we at this stage push the conflict to the level of a military contest?
We should face the obvious and the universally known fact that our external defense capability is near zero. This means that should the United States grant our initial requests, it would mean entering into a territorial defense strategy where we will have no command and control and definitely no capability to sustain anything. It is a strategy of total dependence.
The reclamation activities of China within disputed territories have actually attracted worldwide scrutiny and could lead to a worldwide condemnation of China’s perceived aggression and bullying of its smaller and militarily weak neighbors. This could provide the basic premise of our campaign to stop China. In our weakness lies our strength.
We should, together with our neighbors, continue to encourage the increasing visibility of the United States’ long arm in the region. As the world’s de facto protector, the presence of its sea-borne might in our seas should be an essential deterrent to the use of military agrression as a tool for addressing territorial disputes. Given the correct political moves, we need not rely on sophisticated weapons systems and foreign troops on Philippine soil.
As the world desires, our conflict with China will be addressed politically and within the spirit of good neighborliness, mutual accommodation and mutual respect.
The Philippine president may have offended the sensibilities of China. But President Benigno Aquino is not the Philippines. He is the product of a unique quirk in Philippine history, and sooner or later he will no longer be the burden that the Filipino nation has had to endure. Time could provide the solution. It will be a challenge to the skills of our diplomatic community to win the world over to our cause. But it will not be a simple strategy of stopping a regional bully alone. It will demand an exercise in global solidarity on the part of all our friends.
We need all of them to help us persuade the world’s de facto protector that it is to its long term interest to help a poor nation like the Philippines maintain its integrity and self-respect as an independent and sovereign state.