THAT China will not attack the Philippines and the United States has been doing just that is the proposition that will decide who the next president will be.
Of the two superpowers contending for world hegemony, the latter is on record of having aggressed other nations; the former, nonesuch. While the United States had joined European nations in annexing territories during the age of colonization, never has China gone out of its boundaries in order to expand its territory. Except in the case of the Philippine reefs, shoals and islets in the West Philippine Sea.
In last Monday’s filing by Vice President Jejomar C. Binay of his certificate of candidacy for the presidency, somebody made a show of burning small replicas of the flag of the People’s Republic of China. To the keen observer, the act should stir the question: how would VP Binay handle the China-US conflict over the South China Sea?
The conflict over the Spratlys is, to me, less a Philippine concern than American.
These are the givens on the issue. In a report delivered in January this year by outgoing US Navy Pacific Fleet intelligence chief, Capt. James E. Fannel, he disclosed the specific reefs and islets China had already occupied, enumerating developments made thereon, as follows:
*Mabini Reef (also known as Johnson South Reef) – a three-storey concrete building ringed with gun emplacements and a helipad; feared capable of being converted into a military base.
*Mischief Reef – a three-storey concrete building ringed with five octagonal concrete structures. It has search lights and radar.
*Cuarteron Reef – a permanent reef fortress, supply platforms, and naval and anti-aircraft guns. An airstrip is reportedly being planned.
*Fiery Cross Reef – A marine observation station designated in 2011 as “main command headquarters” equipped with surface and air search radars and armed with at least four high-powered naval guns.
*Gaven Reef – a permanent reef fortress, supply platforms an harbor for navy patrol boats.
*Subi Reef – a permanent reef fortress and supply platforms that can house troops, has a helipad and is armed with four twin-barrel 37mm naval guns. Also houses a Doppler weather radar.
Fannel urged US decision makers to face the problem squarely.
“China’s rise, if left unchecked or undeterred, will necessarily disrupt the peace and stability of our friends, partners, and allies,” he stressed.
That Monday, while we delighted at the usual entertainment characteristic of the advent of the election season, we hardly noticed a horrible news: US to deploy warships close to the Chinese-occupied territories in the Spratlys.
Times of trouble, indeed. But times calling for utmost circumspection.
We must understand that the crisis in South China Sea is a result of an adventure intrinsically American. This adventure had been defined by former US State Secretary and now presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton as America’s Pacific Century, an article she published in the magazine Foreign Policy in November 2011.
In the article, Clinton made known US strategy in the Asia Pacific region for the next one hundred years. Acknowledging the rising threat to American power in the region from rapidly developing Pacific nations, particularly referring to China, she wrote: “One of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will therefore be to lock in a substantially increased investment—diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise—in the Asia-Pacific region.”
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama already set to motion the machinery for pushing the strategy. That same month he toured various countries strengthening security alliances and working out the formation of a new trade block called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which excluded China. That exclusion found added impact in Obama’s declaration at the subsequent East Asia Summit of a not-too-subtle challenge to China right in the face of Chinese Premiere Wen Jiabao: “…while we are not a claimant in the South China Sea dispute, and while we do not take sides, we have a powerful stake in maritime security in general, and in the resolution of the South China Sea issue specifically — as a resident Pacific power, as a maritime nation, as a trading nation and as a guarantor of security in the Asia Pacific region.”
Less than a year later, the Chinese seized Scarborough Shoal and held on to it since then.
The Philippines avoided physical confrontation by withdrawing the lone navy ship that had been deployed to respond to the crisis. It brought the matter to the United Nations for arbitration. In response, China went on frenzied reclamation on occupied reefs and islets.
Now, with US warships about to be deployed to the Spratlys, what is the Philippines to do?
Against this question, here is a piece of advice which appeared in the English-language state-owned China Daily: “No matter how willing we are to discuss the issue, the current Philippine leadership is intent on pressing us into a corner where there is no other left but the use of arms… Manila is living in a fantasy world if it mistakes our forbearance for timidity. This is a dangerous delusion. We have never been a trigger-happy nation. But nor have we ever been afraid to fight when necessary… the Philippines should stop being a troublemaker and drop its ridiculous claim. Otherwise they will learn to their cost how serious we are about our land and sea.”
According to Philippine security expert Rafael Alunan, a former cabinet member in the Cory Aquino and Ramos administrations, China’s ultimate goal is to deny the United States unrestricted passage in the South China Sea. And that’s not attacking the Philippines.
Here, then, is the final challenge to Vice President Jejomar C. Binay as he enters the threshold of the Philippine presidency. The country is increasingly being inclined to a war that is somebody else’s making, therefore a war that it does not want, but a war in which it has been inextricably enmeshed. Will the imminent Binay administration be just one more bead in the country’s rosary of US puppet regimes or will it write finish at long last to the long history of that puppetry and proclaim, “The Philippines is not at war with China. The US is.” But in that event, won’t the Philippines be just watching with arms akimbo while China appears to be annexing it, albeit in slices. Are we to take China’s attack without a fight?
How as President will VP Binay make that extremely difficult task of statecraft of having to walk the exquisitely thin line between political pragmatism and national surrender.