Second of Three Parts
With President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s policy of allowing massive deployment of the American military and perhaps the Japanese as well, China will not only undertake adverse economic, diplomatic and security measures against the Philippines. As explained in the first part of this article, PNoy is provoking the People’s Liberation Army to build up PLA capabilities and firepower in the area.
Thus, the very policies intended to secure the Philippines and its claimed islands, waters and economic zones, will actually further endanger them and extend the threats to the entire archipelago as well as the economy and the nation’s global standing.
But guess what: increasing Chinese military, economic and international pressure on the Philippines is exactly what would serve Washington’s long-advocated initiative to create a “regional architecture” addressing international issues in Asia, and to increase its military presence in the region, including the planned shift to the region of 60 percent of American naval forces, while enhancing alliances and building new ones.
As the PLA expands in the South China Sea to match the U.S. Seventh Fleet and the Japanese Navy rotating in and near the Philippines with access to its bases, the Chinese deployment would underscore even more the aggressor role in which Beijing has been cast in recent years. And the more it uses its economic and geopolitical clout against helpless Manila, the more the bully label sticks.
That would only add greater impetus and justification for Washington’s so-called Pivot to Asia, including its push for military buildup, alliances and regional arrangements to counter the supposed threat of Chinese regional dominance. If Asian nations buy that geopolitical line, then Washington would be on its way to regaining its regional clout while trimming Beijing’s expanding influence.
What a scheme: Aquino lets Washington and Tokyo expand their military presence in and around the Philippines, which then provokes Beijing to punish Manila and build up its forces in the South China Sea—lending credence to the U.S. spiel that Asian nations must line up with it to contain Chinese aggression.
Will Asians fall for it? Not if they have a good grasp of history. Then they would recall that after the early 1991 Soviet collapse, the U.S. stopped wooing Asia after its global rivalry with the defunct U.S.S.R. ended. The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in America rekindled its interest and involvement in the region, but mainly to combat violent extremists. Only belatedly and with much prodding from Washington policy wonks did the U.S. scramble to regain clout in the region as it woke up to China’s rapid rise and the coming shift of the world’s economic and geopolitical center to Asia.
By comparison, since Deng Xiaoping’s reforms in the mid-seventies, China has proved a reliable and supportive friend to its neighbors, especially the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. It cut ties with communist rebels in Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, and backed Asean in opposing Vietnam’s 1978 invasion of Cambodia, even waging a brief punitive war against its fellow communist state.
During the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, the West lectured and imposed crushing bailout conditions on the region, epitomized by then International Monetary Fund Managing Director Michel Camdessus looking down on then Indonesian President Suharto signing rescue loan terms. China, by contrast, quietly helped out by not devaluing its renminbi.
And in the past decade, it boosted trade and investment in Asean, outstripping most nations in new capital and commerce, especially after the U.S. financial crisis of 2007.
Those with even longer memories can look back on past centuries and see that unlike Western colonizers and their Japanese imitators, China never invaded and occupied faraway lands and peoples, even when it sent what was the world’s most powerful navy to Asia and Africa early in the 15th Century, with vessels several times the size of Christopher Columbus’s ships during his voyage to America decades later in 1492.
The United States, on the other hand, waged a brutal war to subjugate the Philippines, Asia’s first republic, in 1900, and fought five major conflicts in Asia since 1950—in Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan, and two in Iraq. Plus even more interventions in the Western Hemisphere, from invasion in Cuba and Nicaragua to subversion in Guatemala and Chile.
Washington’s big-power ways continue today with its campaign pressuring governments to hand over cyber-surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden.
All that makes it hard for most Asian nations to swallow the line that China is an aggressor against which the region should unite under American protection. Nor are they going to sacrifice burgeoning trade and investment ties with the region’s main economic growth engine by becoming its adversaries.
Rather, most of Asia will follow what has been Asean’s longstanding policy of being friends with all major powers, as envisioned in its 1971 Declaration promoting a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN) in Southeast Asia. Big nations will always be competing for influence and clout; little ones should generally avoid taking sides and getting caught in the crossfire.
That should be one key principle in addressing the Philippines’ security problems with China: Restore the warm but equidistant relations the country has had with America, China and Japan for at least the past decade. Two other tenets toward true national security: Downplay disputes and undertake confidence-boosting collaboration. And lastly, build up Philippine defense capabilities, rather than depending on other nations.
For space reasons, this article will need to extend to a third part on Friday outlining a roadmap toward regional harmony and Philippine national security. The way forward won’t be easy, but it can work.
(The first part of the article appeared on Monday. The last will be published on Friday.)