Part II: Comparing the four Southeast Asian states of interest

This paper focuses on the contemporary politics of four Southeast Asian states—Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand.  Two of them—the Philippines and Thailand—are relatively established democracies (albeit with authoritarian interludes) while the other two—Indonesia and Myanmar—are democratizing or liberalizing polities transitioning from authoritarianism.  It is must be noted however that Indonesia has made more considerable progress compared to Myanmar, which have moved away from authoritarianism only a few years ago.

Suharto, former president of Indonesia

Suharto, former president of Indonesia

The forms of government of these democratic (democratizing or liberalizing) states are not similar.  Both Indonesia and the Philippines are unitary presidential constitutional republics with bicameral legislatures.  While Indonesia started democratizing in 1998 after the resignation (ouster) of authoritarian President Suharto, it was only in 2004 that the Indonesian president and vice president were elected by the electorate at large.  Prior to 2004, the leaders of the Indonesian republic were chosen by the legislators.  In contrast, the presidents and vice presidents of the Republic of the Philippines were directly elected since 1946 when the United States granted its independence save for an authoritarian period when the elected leader, President Ferdinand Marcos, launched an auto-golpe in September 1972 and ruled the country beyond the constitutionally-specified end of his term in 1973.  Marcos was ousted in a popular uprising in February 1986 and the new basic law imposed a single-term limit on presidential incumbents.

King Bhumibol of Thailand

King Bhumibol of Thailand

Thailand, meanwhile, is a constitutional monarchy but actual governmental power is wielded by a prime minister (and his cabinet) chosen by a majority of incumbent parliamentarians.  However, the Thai monarch (specially the incumbent King Bhumibol) has played a substantial political role in mediating conflicts between Thai political factions (civilian, military, or otherwise).  The absolute monarchy in Thailand was ended by a military coup in 1930 and a limited monarchy was established in its place.  However, military officers took the reigns of power in several occasions largely through bloodless coups with such authoritarian interludes often gaining royal approval or acquiescence.

General Aung San, considered the father of Burma's independence, was assassinated on July 19, 1947.

General Aung San, considered the father of Burma’s independence, was assassinated on July 19, 1947.

Myanmar is a federated union established in 1948 as a weakened United Kingdom retreated from its Asian colonies.  It was a democratic polity until a coup in 1962 installed a military dictatorship.  The military regime was seriously challenged by insurrections in the capital city of Yangon in 1988 and in 2007 but was able to crush these risings.   Elsewhere, armed secessionist movements of the various non-Bamese (or Burmese) minorities (e.g. Shan, Karen, and other ethnic minorities) fought the Yangon government (considered as controlled by Bamese interests) in one of the world’s longest running civil wars.  To mollify urban opposition, the military regime called for limited parliamentary elections in 1990 but set it aside when the results were not to its liking.  Since the opposition led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (daughter of the acknowledged founder of the modern Burmese army, General Aung San) and her National League for Democracy (NLD) won almost 60% of the national vote and 80% of contested parliamentary seats, the military regime had been under considerable pressure from within and without to relinquish power to elected civilian leaders as well as release Suu Kyi from house arrest.  In 2011, the ruling military junta was officially dissolved following a 2010 general election and a nominally civilian government was installed.  While former military leaders like Thein Sein (nominally a civilian after retirement as military chief) still wield substantial power, the Burmese military have taken major steps in relinquishing governmental control.  Suu Kyi was released and allowed to stand for elections as a parliamentarian.  She assumed her seat in parliament in 2012 and has since served as NLD chair and leader of the opposition.

Shan secessionist soldiers

Shan secessionist soldiers

Notwithstanding differences in forms of government, all four Southeast Asian states have a common history of political regime swings.  However, since all four are either liberalizing, democratizing or consolidating their democratic polities, it is indeed a valid exercise to evaluate how these polities handle two key relationships—between ‘ins’ and ‘outs’, and between majorities and minorities for one to have a well-rounded assessment of their political health.

Advertisements

Travails of democratization and political liberalization in the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar[1]

Amado M. Mendoza, Jr., Ph.D.

University of the Philippines

Part I: Introduction

Notwithstanding differences in the political and social development of Southeast Asian states, it is noteworthy that a ‘politics of hatred, revenge and political obstruction’ characterizes contemporary Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, and the Philippines. In Indonesia, unrepentant vestiges of the Order Baru era seeks to derail the new presidency of the popular reformist Joko Widodo, who is further hobbled by his ‘allies’ in the ruling coalition. Thailand meanwhile is gripped by the seemingly intractable enmity between pro-Thaksin and anti-Thaksin forces. In the Philippines, the out-going Aquino administration is scrambling to field a friendly successor to avoid a fate it ruthlessly imposed on the preceding president. While liberalizing and on the road to democracy and internal reconciliation, the Buddhist-dominated regime in Myanmar is currently engaged in an apparent genocide against Muslim Rohingyas, now the new ‘boat people’ that even Muslim countries like Indonesia and Malaysia are unwilling to accommodate.

Pnoy Aquino

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III

It can be argued that democracy does not have room for a peculiar ‘politics of hatred, revenge and obstruction’ that has characterized the contemporary polities of four key Southeast Asian states: two relatively established democracies—Thailand and the Philippines; a new democracy, Indonesia; and a liberalizing polity—Myanmar—supposedly on a democratic road map. Democracy is a political order ideally based on civil dialogue and compromise and political differences are to be resolved mainly through the electoral process and other political institutions. The hallmark of democracy is thus to resolve conflicts and differences in a rule-based, peaceful or non-violent, and inclusive manner. In fact, democratic theorists argue that the quality of a democracy is largely determined by its capacity to respect the rights and legitimate interests of minorities even as it recognizes that majorities rule. While consensus is not required for a polity to qualify as a democracy, the legitimate interests of any minority as well as their human rights should be respected and must not be summarily dismissed simply because ‘they do not have numbers’. This desideratum is of great importance especially to a polity that is supposedly democratizing like Myanmar.

Myanmar opposition leader Daw Aung Suu Kyi

Myanmar opposition leader Daw Aung Suu Kyi

Incumbent governments in democracies gain their right to rule, or their legitimacy, through the electoral process that must be perceived by political actors and stakeholders to be fair and clean. Electoral legitimacy can be eroded through the life of a government if it fails to deliver a decent modicum of desired public goods to a critical majority of its constituents. If electoral legitimacy is buttressed by performance, a government that seeks re-election will most likely (ceteris paribus) succeed in obtaining a new electoral mandate.

Joko Widodo, President of Indonesia

Joko Widodo, President of Indonesia

Nonetheless, such mandates are not permanent since democracies, as rule, prescribe time-bound terms of incumbency. Alternation of incumbents is thus an institutional feature of democracies. Even if the same political party or coalition is returned to power through elections, the political leaders of government need not be same. For this reason, how the ‘outs’ are treated by those in power (or the ‘ins’) is another important indicator of a democratic polity’s quality. In the same manner, how ex-incumbents deal with a sitting government will also matter. In the main, ex-incumbents may either choose to cooperate with the incumbents even while maintaining an oppositionist stance. This stance of being the ‘loyal opposition’ is acceptable in a democracy which does not require unanimity and accepts and tolerates political differences. The qualifier ‘loyal’ is important as ex-incumbents are required to respect the electoral will of a state’s citizens. Ex-incumbents, even in if the opposition, are required to limit such opposition to legal means and avenues. They may ‘plot’, plan, organize and mobilize to regain incumbency but only within electoral and institutional parameters. Should they seek to regain incumbency through non-institutional and violent ways such as revolution, coups, and the like, they undermine and weaken their polities’ democracies and impede democratic consolidation.

Thailand's former premier Thaksin Shinawatra gestures as he speaks to journalists outside his home in Dubai, after Puea Thai Party's Yingluck Shinawatra announced her coalition in Bangkok July 4, 2011. Exiled former Thai prime minister Thaksin said on Monday he had no wish to become prime minister again in the wake of a landslide election victory for his sister's opposition party. Thaksin, a billionaire twice elected premier, was ousted in a 2006 coup. (REUTERS/Jumana El Heloueh)

Thailand’s former premier Thaksin Shinawatra

Cleavages other than electoral fortune such as religion, ethnicity, wealth and income, among others, may also create majorities and minorities. In the same manner, how these non-electoral majorities relate with or treat non-electoral minorities is another important index of a polity’s democratic bona fides. If these non-electoral minorities are discriminated against, oppressed, or persecuted systematically by the majority, the discontent can lead to political disorder and instability and could inspire armed secessionist movements.

Thus, the health of a democracy, the prospects of a democratizing polity can be measured through two variable relationships: between majorities and minorities and between the ‘ins’ and the ‘outs’.

__________________________

Presented at the 9th APISA Annual Conference, Phnom Penh, Cambodia (September 11-12, 2015). Not for citation; comments are welcome and could be sent to ammendoza@up.edu.ph or ammendozajr@gmail.com.)


“The changing triangular relations between the Philippines, the United States and the People’s Republic China: From Obama, Aquino, and Xi and beyond”

 

Amado M. Mendoza, Jr. and Richard Javad Heydarian

Part V

What now?

None illustrates the abject poverty of the Philippine government’s current position vis-à-vis China that the just concluded seventh bilateral strategic and economic dialogue between China and the United States last June.  A glaring contrast is offered by a more powerful U.S. talking with China while the  weakest state, the Philippines, spurns talking with a powerful neighbor.   It appears that the smallest power in this triangle has put all its eggs in two baskets: the ITLOS arbitration case and an expanding security relationship with its American ally (as well as Japan).  It remains to be seen how the Benigno Aquino III administration will respond to the latest entreaty from the Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines that the former drop its ITLOS case and resume the bilateral dialogue between the two states.

US-China strategic and economic dialogue

Even the bitterest adversaries can and should talk, and the measure of good leadership is to combine deterrence with smart engagement. After all, diplomacy is about avoiding conflict, resolving disputes, and outsmarting adversaries through means than raw brinkmanship.  We can learn from our neighbors.  The Philippines is not the only country which has territorial disputes with China.  If anything, Tokyo and Hanoi have been locked in a similar, if not fiercer, territorial show down with Beijing.  Since 2010, Japan has had to resist the ever-growing deployment of Chinese para-military patrols and jet fighters close to the shores of the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. Armed hostilities loomed possible.  Hawks in Beijing have utilized the disputes to fan the flames of anti-Japanese sentiment, which led to violent protests in China against Japanese interests and products in 2012.

Senkaku-Diaoyu-Tiaoyu-Islands

Pre-modern Vietnam had waged a millennium-old war of anti-colonial resistance against its powerful northern neighbor.  Vietnam’s very national identity has been shaped by what it sees as a struggle for independence against China.  Unlike Japan and the Philippines, Vietnam has had to contend with both continental as well as maritime disputes with China.  In 1974, China effectively evicted (South) Vietnam from the Paracels in the South China Sea and mounted a full-scale invasion of Vietnam in 1979.  In 1988, Vietnam faced another bloody skirmish with China over disputed islands in the Spratlys.  In mid-2014, Vietnam and China relations suffered a huge setback after Beijing deployed a giant oil rig into Vietnamese-claimed waters.

However, both Japan and Vietnam[1] have maintained robust diplomatic channels with China, while rapidly developing their deterrence capabilities.  Both Tokyo and Hanoi have tried (with considerable success) to maintain large-scale economic ties with China, defend their territorial integrity, and avoid outright conflict. They have accomplished this difficult balancing act by combining pro-active engagement with a determined push to enhance their deterrence capabilities.  Leaders in Japan and Vietnam have tried to ensure territorial disputes with China do not define their overall relationship with Asia’s new superpower.   In economic terms, China is a leading trading partner and source of investments for Vietnam . With respect to Japan, China is a critical investment and consumer market as well as a key source of rare earth elements.

Pursuing (and maintaining) engagement with China has always risked domestic political backlash for rivals, especially among more hawkish circles, which view China as a monolithic expansionist power. In 2014, as the dispute with China entered a dangerous stage, Japan’s nationalist leader, Shinzo Abe, took a huge gamble when he instructed his diplomats to open communication channels with China, culminating in a formal dialogue between Abe and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, on the sidelines of the APEC Summit in Beijing.  Abe’s meeting with Xi ended up in one of the world’s most awkward handshakes, but it did not take long before Japan and China resumed high-level talks among their foreign and defense ministries, and began exploring various confidence-building measures to avoid accidental clashes in the high seas.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and China's President Xi Jinping, right, shake hands during their meeting at the Great Hall of the People, on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings, in Beijing, Monday, Nov. 10, 2014. President Xi and Prime Minister Abe held an ice-breaking meeting Monday on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific conference in Beijing, following more than two years of deep tensions over an island dispute. (AP Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon, Pool)

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and China’s President Xi Jinping, right, shake hands during their meeting at the Great Hall of the People, on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings, in Beijing, Monday, Nov. 10, 2014. President Xi and Prime Minister Abe held an ice-breaking meeting Monday on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific conference in Beijing, following more than two years of deep tensions over an island dispute. (AP Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon, Pool)

At the height of their disputes in the South China Sea last year, Vietnam hosted China’s leading foreign policy advisor, Yang Jiechi, and dispatched a top official, Le Hong Anh, to Beijing to de-escalate tensions. Soon, the two countries signed their third hotline, between their defense ministries, while the country’s party chief, Nguyen Phu Troung, made a high-profile visit to Beijing in mid-2015.  China not only withdrew the oil rig from Vietnamese waters; it also did not dispatch additional ones.  In exchange, Vietnam is said to have temporarily shelved the option of taking the dispute to an international court.  All the while, Vietnam as well as Japan have augmented their presence close to disputed features, fortified their position on the ground, and have embarked on a long-term initiative to enhance their defensive capabilities.

The Philippines can draw crucial lessons from its neighbors. First and foremost, it has to acknowledge the importance of maintaining high-level communication channels with Beijing. So far, Aquino and Xi are yet to hold a single formal summit.  For what is publicly known, Manila has not established a single hotline with China to prevent accidental clashes in the high seas and make sure they do not escalate into a full-scale conflict.

It is important to make sure Manila’s bilateral relations with China are not primarily defined by their conflicts but rather by their long-term shared interests.  Finally, the Philippines must also draw lessons from poorer neighbors such as Vietnam, which, instead of relying on external powers, are investing in their own air, naval, and coast guard capabilities in order to push back against Chinese assertiveness.

With Xi Jinping expected to visit Manila for the APEC summit later this year, there is a crucial opportunity to kick start a more proactive engagement with Beijing, keeping in mind the importance of diplomacy not only to mobilize friends but also outsmart or neutralize rivals.  Ultimately, however, as the more powerful party Beijing bears the greater responsibility for reaching out to its much-weaker and vulnerable neighbor.  This is apparently what the Chinese ambassador Zhao Jianhua has done recently, with the assurance that the Philippines is not in any way excluded from the Chinese-sponsored Maritime Silk Road (Remo 2015).  To encourage good will, China should offer greater economic incentives without any geopolitical preconditions. For starters, China can also boost confidence-building efforts by permanently postponing the imposition of any Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea.  It could also raise hopes for greater cooperation by ending its unilateral, coercive occupation of the Scarborough Shoal, ending para-military patrols close to Philippine- controlled features in the area, agreeing to a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, and start negotiating mutually-satisfying joint development schemes with its neighbors.  More than anyone else, the ball is in China’s court, but it is also necessary for the Philippines to re-calibrate its diplomatic posturing, driven by more reason than emotions or ideological preferences.

REFERENCES

  1. Books, book chapters, and journal articles

Advincula, J. 2015. “China’s Leadership Transition and the Future of US-China Relations: Insights from the Spratly Islands case.” Journal of Chinese Political Science (2015) 20: 51-65.

Anderson, B. 1999.  “From Miracle to Crash”. London Review of Books. 20(8): 3-7.

Bello, W. 2010.  “From American Lake to People’s Pacific in the Twenty-First Century.” in Militarized Currents: Toward a Decolonized Future in Asia and the Pacific, eds. Shihematsu S. & Keith Camacho. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis.

Bello, Walden. 2006. Dilemmas of Domination: The Unmaking of the American Empire. Metropolitan Books: New York.

Blackwill, R. D. and Tellis, A. J. 2015. Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China. New York: Council on Foreign Relations.

Blanchard, J. and Shen, S. 2015. Conflict and Cooperation in Sino-US Relations. London/New York: Routledge.

Chen, R. 2013. “A critical analysis of the U.S. ‘Pivot’ toward the Asia-Pacific: How realistic is neo-realism?” The Quarterly Journal (Summer): 39-66.

Chung, C.P. 2004. “Southeast Asia-China Relations: Dialectics of ‘Hedging’ and ‘Counter-Hedging’.” Southeast Asian Affairs 2004: 35-53.

Dollar, D. 2007. “Asian Century or Multi-polar Century.” World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 4174.

Dong, W. 2015. “Is China trying to push the U.S. out of East Asia?” China Quarterly of International Strategic Studies 1(1): 59–84.

Feria, D. 1993. The Barbed Wire Journal: Project Sea Hawk. Baguio: Paper Tigers and Circle Publications.

Garver, J. W. 1992. “China’s Push through the South China Sea: The Interaction of Bureaucratic and National Interests”. China Quarterly, No. 132: 999-1028.

Hamilton-Paterson, J. 1998. America’s Boy: The Marcoses and the Philippines. Mandaluyong City: Anvil Publishing.

Heydarian, R. J. 2015. “The Diplomatic Implications of Philippine-China Arbitration”, Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, Center for Strategic and International Studies. January 21, 2015.

Kissinger, H. 2012. “The Future of U.S.-Chinese Relations.” Foreign Affairs March/April 2012.

Kissinger, Henry. 2011. On China. New York: Penguin books.

Kohli, H., Sharma, A., and Sood, A. eds. 2011. Asia 2050: Realizing the Asian Century. Singapore: Sage Publications.

Kurlantzick, Joshua. 2007. Charm-offensive: How China’s soft power is transforming the world. New York: Yale University Press.

Li, J. 2014. “Managing tension in the South China Sea: Comparing the China-Philippines and the China-Vietnam approaches.” RSIS Working Paper No. 273. Singapore: Nanyang Technological University.

Mearsheimer, J. 2014. The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (Updated edition). New York: Norton.

Mearsheimer, J. 2014a. “Can China Rise Peacefully?” National Interest  25 October 2014. http://nationalinterest.org/commentary/can-china-rise-peacefully-10204 (Accessed 19 July 2015).

Mendoza, A. and Heydarian, R. 2012.  “China-Philippines”, in ASEAN – China Free Trade Area Challenges, Opportunities and the Road Ahead, Keith, F. & Kalyan Kemburi (eds.). Nanyang Technological University: Singapore.

Morada, N. 2006. “Philippine Foreign Relations after September 11 (2001-2005),” in Philippine Politics and Governance: An Introduction. Eds. Morada N., & Teresa Encarnacion Tadem. Quezon City: University of the Philippines.

Morrison, W. 2015. “China-U.S. Trade Issues.” US Congressional Research Service.

Nye, Joseph Jr. 2015. “The future of U.S.-China Relations.” Brazilian Journal of International Relations 4(1): 7-20.

Saha, P. 2015. “The Scarborough Shoal Dispute and the United States-Philippines Relations.” Global Journal of Multidisciplinary Studies 4(6): 237-253.

Saunders, P. 2014. “China’s Rising Power, the U.S. Rebalance to Asia, and Implications for U.S.-China Relations.” Issues & Studies 50(3): 19-55.

Shirk, Susan. 2007. China: Fragile Superpower:  How China’s Internal Politics Could Derail Its Peaceful Rise. New York: Oxford University Press.

Swaine, M. 2015b. “Averting a deepening U.S.-China rift over the South China Sea.” National Interest, 2 June 2015.

Swaine, M., et al. 2015. Conflict and Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific Region: A Strategic Net Assessment. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Yamaguchi, N. 2012. “Facilitating the US Pivot: A Japanese Perspective.” Global Asia 7(4): 42-45.

Zhao, S. 2014. “A new model of big power relations? China-US strategic rivalry and balance of power in the Asia-Pacific.” Journal of Contemporary China 24(93): 377-397.

  1. Periodical articles

Allan, A. 1974. “Red arms smuggling plot busted.” Philippine Daily Express, August 29, 1974, pp. 1-2.

Anon. 2015. “Russia first to approve AIIB.” The BRICS Post, 3 July 2015.

  1. 2015. “US Pacific Fleet chief joins surveillance of South China Sea.” Inquirer.net, 19 July 2015.

Bosco, J. 2015. “America’s Asia Policy: The New Reality.”  The Diplomat, 23 June 2015.

Chubb, A. 2015. “The South China Sea: Defining the ‘Status Quo’.” Name of publication, 11 June 2015.

Fonbuena, C. 2014.  “SC orals on EDCA: China threat looms over charter issues.” Rappler, 18 November 2014.

Fonbuena, C. 2015. “Miriam sends anti-EDCA draft resolution to Supreme Court.” Rappler, 30 June 2015.

Jakobson, L. and Medcalf, R. 2015. “The perception gap: Reading China’s maritime objectives in Indo-Pacific Asia.” Lowy Institute for International Policy, 23 June 2015.

Heydarian, R. J. 2015. “The China challenge in the West Philippine Sea.” Rappler, 12 June 2015.

Heydarian, R. J. 2015. “Made in Beijing: An Anti-China Alliance Emerges.” The National Interest, 13 June 2015.

Heydarian, R.J. 2015. “Engaging China: Time for smart diplomacy.”  Rappler, 16 June 2015.

Heydarian, R. J. 2015. “Japan: The Philippines’ New Best Friend?” Publication’s name, 17 June 2015.

Heydarian, R. J. 2015. “Time for China and the Philippines to Talk: Resolving the South China Sea Conundrum.” The World Post, 18 June 2015.

Heydarian, R.J. 2015. “Chinese-Filipino Community’s Dilemma: The Philippines, China, and the China South Sea Disputes.” The World Post, 28 June 2015.

Katigbak, J. 2015. “US to China: Prove your claim.” Philippine Star, 29 June 2015.

Malay, R. 2005. “How NPA guerillas lost China’s support”. Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 29, 2005, p. A1.

Perlez, J. 2015. “Stampede to join China’s development bank stuns even its founder.”  Asia Pacific, 2 April 2015.

Reuters. 2015. “China: Changing position on sea dispute would shame ancestors.” GMA News Online, 27 June 2015.

Torode, G. 2015. “’Paving Paradise’: Scientists alarmed over China island-building in disputed sea.” Jakarta Globe, 26 June 2015.

Uy, V. 2013. “Scarborough Standoff a year later: Don’t take the US side and other tips from a Chinese expert.” InterAksyon.com, 10 April 2013.

  • Primary sources

Ackermann, M. 2014. “China’s Rise to Power: An Examination of Domestic, Regional and Global Impacts.”  Master’s thesis, Johns Hopkins University.

Colberg, C. M. 2014. “Catching Fish with Two Hands: Vietnam’s Hedging Strategy Towards China.” Master’s thesis, Stanford University.

Cruz, E. S. 2015. “In Defense of the Spratly Islands: The Philippines’ Bilateral Defense Policy against a Looming China”. International Studies Capstone Research Papers. Paper 2. http://digitalcommons.cedarville.edu/international_studies_capstones/2 (Accessed 4 July 2015).

Garcia, Z. 2014. “China’s Military Modernization, Japan’s Normalization and its Effects on the South China Sea Territorial Disputes.” FIU Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Paper 1315. http://digitalcommons.fiu.edu/etd/1315 (Accessed 19 July 2015).

Hendriks, J. T. 2015. “Rebalancing great power politics: a new cold war between the US and China.” Master’s thesis, Leiden University.

Lum, T. and Dolven, B. 2014. “The Republic of the Philippines and U.S. Interests—2014.”  Congressional Research Service, US Congress.

Mahan, T.J. 2013. “Allies of necessity: U.S.-Philippine strategic relations, 1898-2013.” Honors thesis, Texas State University-San Marcos.

  1. Online sources

Amadeo, K. 2015a. “China’s Economy.” http://useconomy.about.com/od/worldeconomy/p/China_Economy.htm (Accessed 19 July 2015).

Amadeo, K. 2015b. “U.S. Debt to China.” http://useconomy.about.com/od/worldeconomy/p/What-Is-the-US-Debt-to-China.htm (Accessed 19 July 2015).

Amadeo, K. 2015c. “The U.S. Debt and How It Got So Big.” < http://useconomy.about.com/od/fiscalpolicy/p/US_Debt.htm> (Accessed 19 July 2015).

Harding, R. 2014. “The Lack of Geostrategic Vision in the Philippines’ China Policy.” https://medium.com/@renyharding/the-lack-of-geostrategic-vision-in-the-philippines-china-policy-726ba0506c22 (Accessed 5 July 2015).

Remo, A. 2015. “China urges PH: Let’s talk instead.” Inquirer.net 23 July 2015 < http://globalnation.inquirer.net/126484/china-urges-ph-lets-talk-instead>. (Accessed 23 July 2015).

Swaine, M. 2015a. “The Real Challenge in the Pacific.” Foreign Affairs May/June 2015. (Accessed 19 July 2015).

Timaraos, N. 2015. “U.S. Annual Budget Deficit Remains Near 7-Year Low in June.” Wall Street Journal 13 July 2015 < http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-annual-budget-deficit-remains-near-7-year-low-in-june-1436810691> (Accessed 19 July 2015).

U.S. Treasury. 2015. “Major Foreign Holders of Treasury Securities.” http://www.treasury.gov/ticdata/Publish/mfh.txt (Accessed 19 July 2015).

[1] Li (2014) compares China-Vietnam and China-Philippine relations and concludes that from a conflict management perspective, China and Vietnam have sought to manage their border disputes through the establishment and development of a system of talks.  This approach has resulted in both formal settlement of land border and Gulf of Tonkin disputes and in better management of disputes in the South China Sea.  In contrast, between China and the Philippines, attempts were made to establish mechanisms for conflict management in the 1900s and 2000s but they have not been sustained, and in recent years the absence of such mechanisms have led to frosty relations.


“The changing triangular relations between the Philippines, the United States and the People’s Republic China: From Obama, Aquino, and Xi and beyond”

 

Amado M. Mendoza, Jr. and Richard Javad Heydarian

Part IV

Philippines flag

Chinese flag

The dragon and the carabao

                                   

Philippine-China bilateral ties have been far from monolithic, perhaps representing one of the most volatile inter-state relationships in recent memory. Today, the Philippines is seen as one of the most vociferous and outspoken critics of China’s maritime assertiveness in East Asia. And it has, much to the chagrin of its giant neighbor, taken the unprecedented decision to use third-party arbitration, under the aegis of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to push back against China’s sweeping claims and ever-expanding para-military patrols across the South China Sea.

Less than a decade earlier, however, the two countries enjoyed a highly cordial relationship, anchored by institutionalized security dialogue, large-scale trade and investments deal, and various confidence building measures (CBMs) aimed at managing their territorial disputes. A mono-causal explanation of the evolution of Philippine-China ties obfuscates the complex interplay of multiple factors in shaping their bilateral relationship.  The Philippines’ relations with China have been influenced by not only major developments in the South China Sea — namely, China’s coercive assertion of its claims at the expense of the Philippines — but also the strategic predisposition of each Philippine administration as well as the broader dynamics of U.S.-China relations.

A rollercoaster relationship

As America’s oldest ally, the Philippines stood with its former colonial master throughout much of the early-Cold War period, serving as a key logistical hub during the Korean War (1950-53) as well as the Vietnam War (1955-75). The Philippines proved itself as a crucial partner in containing the spread of Communism in the Asia-Pacific theater, hosting America’s largest overseas bases in Clark and Subic, which served as the bedrock of Washington’s forward deployment presence in the region (Anderson 1999; Bello 2006; 2010).

Southeast-Asia-Political-Map-CIA-2003

Manila’s strategic proximity — if not subservience — to Washington, however, did not prevent it from reaching out to Beijing. In the 1970s, the Ferdinand Marcos administration (1965-1986) pursued a rapprochement with Chairman Mao. The Filipino strongman recognized the importance of maintaining stable relations with a powerful neighbor, which could hurt the Philippines both from without and within. On one hand, the Philippines was embroiled in a domestic counter-insurgency campaign against an increasingly powerful indigenous Communist movement.  Externally, the Marcos administration was cognizant of China’s growing ambitions in the South China Sea, as Beijing sought to eliminate South Vietnam’s presence in the Paracel chain of islands, culminating in skirmishes in 1974, and push further into the Spratly chain of islands. The Philippines was intent on making sure its presence in the Thitu Island, where it established an airstrip and advanced facilities, was not threatened by China, although robust American military presence in the Philippines served as a key deterrence.. Overall, Manila sought a modus vivendi with its Communist neighbor. Crucially, the normalization of Philippine-China ties took place within the context of a brewing détente between Beijing and Washington, as China’s paramount leader reciprocated the Nixon administration’s charm offensive. Mao and Nixon laid down the foundations of a de facto US-China alliance against the Soviet Union, which ramped up its security ties with (a newly unified) Vietnam. Both Manila and Beijing were concerned with prospects of greater Vietnamese territorial assertiveness — with Soviet assistance and against the backdrop of America’s humiliating setback in South Vietnam — in the region.

Deng Xiaoping

The rise of pragmatist leader, Deng Xiaoping, coincided with (i) the normalization of China’s ties with (American-aligned) Southeast Asian neighbors and (ii) a determined pushback against Hanoi’s ambitions in Indo-China, particularly in Cambodia, and in the South China Sea, particularly in the Spratly chain of islands where Vietnam enjoyed the most expansive presence, controlling  some twenty one (21) features. The Moscow-Hanoi axis represented a common enemy to Beijing, Manila, and Washington, who were increasingly bound together by a cynical “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” strategic mindset. Philippine-China bilateral relations also benefited from the growing sophistication of Beijing’s diplomacy. Deng Xiaoping embarked on a charm-offensive across Southeast Asia shortly after assuming power, and chose to nix long financial-logistical support to Communist insurgencies across the region; meanwhile, his protégé Jiang Zemin (1992-2002) oversaw the transformation of the Chinese diplomatic corps into a modern, articulate, and competent force, which facilitated a careful cultivation of bilateral ties with neighboring countries such as the Philippines (Graver 1992; Kurlantzick 2007; Kissinger 2011; Shirk 2007).

The end of Cold War, however, presented new challenges to Philippine-China relations. The withdrawal of American bases from the Philippines in 1992, after a wave of nationalist outcry against foreign military presence in the country, created a huge power vacuum in the region. It didn’t take long before China stepped in, coercively occupying (1994) the Mischief Reef, a feature claimed (and intermittently occupied) by the Philippines in the Spratly chain of island. By 1995, the two countries confronted a diplomatic crisis, with the Ramos administration (1992-1998) considering various measures to restrain China’s territorial opportunism and wrest back the Mischief Reef. Aside from augmenting the capabilities of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), under the AFP Modernization Act of 1996, the Ramos administration assiduously mobilized a regional diplomatic offensive against China, which culminated in the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC). Forged under the aegis of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the DOC provided a foundational document for a long-term management of the South China Sea disputes, discouraging claimant states from engaging in provocative, unilateral and coercive measures in the area, among other things. Crucially, it provided a basis for the negotiation of a more legally-binding Code of Conduct (COC) in the long-run. The Philippines decision to welcome back American troops, under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), was by no means sufficient to fully deter Chinese adventurism. The VFA neither provided for the establishment of permanent, large-scale American bases in the Philippines — a non-starter on constitutional grounds — nor did it translate into unequivocal American support for the Philippines amid the Southeast Asian country’s territorial disputes with China. The Ramos administration had to place at least some of its strategic eggs in the diplomatic basket. There was no military solution to the Chinese threat.

With the entry of China into the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the emergence of the Communist power into a regional economic pivot, neighboring countries further shifted their attention to trade and investment-related issues. Now, China was primarily seen as an indispensable economic partner for many East Asian countries. And the Philippines came to saw China as a vital trading partner, too. Meanwhile, the Bush administration’s (2000-2008) pugnacious and unilateralist foreign policy began to alienate many countries in the region. Soon, many countries began to see China as a peaceful, cooperative rising power standing in stark contrast to the unilateral assertiveness of the U.S. By 2004, the Arroyo administration (2001-2010) decided to withdraw its troops from the “Coalition of the Willing” contingent in Iraq, a move that incensed Washington but bought the unpopular Filipino president desperately needed political capital at home. The move came on the heels of growing popular demand for saving a Filipino hostage (Angelo De La Cruz) held by al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Iraq, which demanded the withdrawal of Philippine military presence in the Middle Eastern country in exchange for the hostage’s life. To pre-empt any potential reprisal from Washington, which dangled the option of reducing military and financial assistance to its Southeast Asian ally, the Arroyo administration astutely employed the ‘China card’, embarking on a high-profile state visit to Beijing, which culminated in a series of trade, security, and investment agreements. What followed was arguably the “golden age” of Philippine-China relations, as the Arroyo administration inked major Chinese investments in the country, particularly in the infrastructure sector, and explored CBMs such as the 2005 Joint Maritime Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) to manage disputes and explore joint development schemes in the South China Sea (Morada 2006; Mendoza and Heydarian 2012).

joint seismic survey

Astonishingly, even the U.S. was seemingly impressed by China’s efforts to develop cordial ties with the Philippines. For instance, in a cable entitled “More on Hu Jintao’s Visit to the Philippines”, the American Embassy in Manila was largely sanguine with Chinese president’s 2005 visit to Manila by stating: “President Hu’s charm offensive in Manila does not appear significantly different from that in other ASEAN capitals.  Better and broader bilateral ties advance regional interests, as other ASEAN members have also discovered”.[1]  In another cable, entitled “Joint Seismic Survey in South China Sea makes progress”, Washington also welcomed the JMSU agreement: “The joint seismic survey offers a good model for potential subsequent cooperation on exploration and exploitation, and fits neatly with Philippine goals of increased interaction between ASEAN and China and the promotion of confidence building measures. The true test of the cooperative spirit, however, will come when the parties may contemplate Extraction.”[2] Astonishingly, the U.S. was cautiously optimistic with respect to growing Philippine-China relations.

Bilateral ties, however, began to sour towards the twilight years of the Arroyo administration, as the Philippine Supreme Court declared the JMSU unconstitutional and a series of corruption scandals rocked Philippine-China joint ventures, particularly the NBN-ZTE project. The election of a new Filipino leader paved the way for a qualitative shift in bilateral relations. Presenting his agenda as a moral crusade against corruption (and his successor), Benigno Aquino III was bound to be more circumspect vis-à-vis large-scale Chinese investments in the country. The 2008-09 Global Financial Crisis also took a toll on bilateral trade, which reached as high as $30 billion in 2007 but significantly shrank (and shifted in China’s favor) in succeeding years (Mendoza & Heydarian 2012). Bilateral ties were further embittered by growing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea, particularly in 2010 and 2011. The Philippines had to suspend its oil exploration activities in the Reed Bank due to Chinese harassments. No wonder then, the Philippines began to openly embrace the Obama administration’s Pivot to Asia (P2A) policy, with a primary focus on augmenting America military footprint in the region. Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto del Rosario (a former ambassador to Washington) stood as among the most enthusiastic supporters of P2A in Asia, pushing for an upgraded Philippine-U.S. security alliance (against China).

SFA Albert del Rosario

Nonetheless, there were several attempts by the Aquino administration to prevent a breakdown in bilateral relations, particularly his highly-controversial refusal to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in 2010 for Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo as well as his high-profile visit to Beijing in 2011. But the Scarborough Shoal crisis in mid-2012 — pitting a Filipino frigate against an armada of Chinese coast guard vessels, and subsequently unleashing Chinese economic sanctions against the Philippines — led to an effective breakdown in bilateral relations. Attempts at backdoor channel diplomacy heavily backfired, leading to acrimonious blame games between Filipino officials and legislators, China refusing to disengage from the contested feature and proceeding with cordoning of the whole area. The Philippines’ decision to initiate compulsory arbitration against China in early-2013 heavily undermined prospects for better bilateral relations under the Xi Jinping administration (2012-2022), which has shown even greater determination to consolidate Chinese claims in the South China Sea. The Aquino administration’s often incendiary rhetoric against China and its decision to welcome greater American rotational military presence in the Philippines, under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), also discouraged Chinese leaders, from President Xi to Premiere Li Keqiang and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, from holding even a single high-level dialogue with their Filipino counterparts.

With Filipino officials accusing China of acting like a “bully” and Beijing returning the favor by accusing the Philippines of acting like a “troublemaker”, bilateral relations entered their darkest period in recent memory. As far as the South China Sea disputes are concerned, China holds the upper hand. It is highly unlikely that there will be any significant respite in the ongoing bilateral diplomatic deadlock until a new Filipino leadership, with a more pragmatic streak and subtle diplomatic language, takes over in 2016.

________________________________

Notes:

[1] Cable retrieved from the Wikileaks site, see https://wikileaks.org/cable/2005/05/05MANILA2174.html#

[2] Cable retrieved from the Wikileaks site, see http://www.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06MANILA4848_a.html


“The changing triangular relations between the Philippines, the United States and the People’s Republic China: From Obama, Aquino, and Xi and beyond”

 

Amado M. Mendoza, Jr. and Richard Javad Heydarian

Part III

It’s complicated between the new frenemies!

Relations between the United States and China were rebooted more than four decades ago when diplomatic relations were re-established between the two powers.  While initial relations between the two were predictably frosty, even hostile (as evident in the Korean war of the early 1950s), the fissures between erstwhile communist comrades afforded the strategic opportunity for the United States to partner with China versus the Soviet Union.  China gained a lot from the normalization though the dimensions were not apparent at the time.  While China gained entry into the United Nations Security Council at Taiwan’s expense as a consequence, the contrasting fates between it and the Soviet Union reveal the full extent of the paybacks.  While the Soviet Union disappeared into the pages of history in the early 1990s, China proved to be the greatest beneficiary of a Western-induced globalization that needed access to China’s relatively cheap labor force and extensive markets created by growing economic prosperity.

Barack Obama

Realist thinkers have long emphasized the tensions and conflict generated by a rising power that will inevitably seek to challenge an extant hegemon.  Complementing Organski’s theories on power transition, Mearsheimer (2001) argued that great powers are not content with existing power but seek hegemony instead for their security.  This is so since they cannot know how much power is enough for present and future needs.  For this compelling reason, Mearsheimer believes that great powers will strive for hegemony now and eliminate the possibility of challengers to best ensure their security.  He also notes however that a state cannot attain global hegemony since the too many oceans can effectively stop power.  States can only achieve regional hegemony   In the most recent update of his treatise, Mearsheimer (2014 and 2014a) elaborates that a rising China will seek to dominate Asia, while the United States, determined to remain the world’s sole regional hegemon, will go to great lengths to prevent that from happening.

Current headlines seem to indicate the verity of Mearsheimer’s words.  Nonetheless, his views are not shared by American IR theorists and practitioners.  The realist par excellence and the grand strategist who helped US President Richard Nixon re-establish ties with China, Henry Kissinger, wrote these words of caution:

An explicit American project to organize Asia on the basis of containing China or creating a bloc of democratic states for an ideological crusade is unlikely to succeed—in part because China is an indispensable trading partner for most of its neighbors. By the same token, a Chinese attempt to exclude America from Asian economic and security affairs will similarly meet serious resistance from almost all other Asian states, which fear the consequences of a region dominated by a single power. The appropriate label for the Sino-American relationship is less partnership than “co-evolution.” It means that both countries pursue their domestic imperatives, cooperating where possible, and adjust their relations to minimize conflict. Neither side endorses all the aims of the other or presumes a total identity of interests, but both sides seek to identify and develop complementary interests (Kissinger 2011).

An opposite view is held by liberal institutionalists.  Liberals argue that China’s membership in international organizations such as the United Nations, World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund and the World Bank has brought benefits and has acculturated China to accept the existence of these same institutions.  In this sense, China is not really an out-and-out revisionist power seeking to alter the world order and institutions.

Whether one is a realist or a liberal theorist, it cannot be denied that economic relations between the two states have grown immensely over the past decades.   A US Congressional Research Service paper (Morrison 2015) reports that U.S.-China economic ties have expanded substantially over the past three decades. Total U.S.-China trade rose from $2 billion in 1979 to $592 billion in 2014.  China is currently the United States’ second-largest trading partner, its third-largest export market, and its biggest source of imports. China is estimated to be a $350 billion market for U.S. firms, based on U.S. direct and indirect exports to China and sales by U.S.-invested firms in China. Many U.S. firms view participation in China’s market as critical to staying globally competitive. General Motors (GM), for example, which has invested heavily in China, sold more cars in China than in the United States each year from 2010 to 2014.  In addition, U.S. imports of low-cost goods from China greatly benefit U.S. consumers, and U.S. firms that use China as the final point of assembly for their products, or use Chinese-made inputs for production in the United States, are able to lower costs. China is the largest foreign holder of U.S. Treasury securities ($1.24 trillion as of December 2014).  China’s purchases of U.S. government debt help keep U.S. interest rates low.

Despite growing commercial ties, the bilateral economic relationship has become increasingly complex and often fraught with tension. From the U.S. perspective, many trade tensions stem from China’s incomplete transition to a free market economy. While China has significantly liberalized it’s economic and trade regimes over the past three decades, it continues to maintain (or has recently imposed) a number of state-directed policies that appear to distort trade and investment flows. Major areas of concern expressed by U.S. policymakers and stakeholders include China’s relatively poor record of intellectual property rights (IPR) enforcement and alleged widespread cyber economic espionage against U.S. firms by Chinese government entities; its mixed record on implementing its World Trade Organization (WTO) obligations; its extensive use of industrial policies (such as financial support of state-owned firms, trade and investment barriers, and pressure on foreign-invested firms in China to transfer technology in exchange for market access) in order to promote the development of industries favored by the government and protect them from foreign competition; and its policies to hold down the value of its currency.  Many U.S. policymakers argue that such policies negatively impact U.S. economic interests and have contributed to U.S. job losses.

Chinese President Xi Jinping takes part in a meeting with his French counterpart at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on March 26, 2014 in Paris. Xi was set today to sign a series of major business deals on the second day of a lavish state visit to France.  Xi is on his first-ever European tour and after visiting The Netherlands and France will head to Germany and Belgium.   AFP PHOTO POOL CHRISTOPHE ENA

How important is China in economic terms, especially to the United States?  China has 1.36 billion people, the largest national population in the world. Its economy produced $17.63 trillion in 2014, (based on purchasing power parity), making China the world’s largest economy. The European Union is second at $17.61 trillion, while the United States fell to third place with $17.61 trillion.  However, China is still a relatively poor country. Its economy only produces $12,900 per person, compared to the GDP per capita of $52,800 for the United States.  This allows China to pay its workers less, making its products cheaper, which lures overseas manufacturers to outsource jobs there.  China became the world’s largest exporter in 2013. It exported $2.21 trillion of its production, beating the EU, at $2.173 trillion and the U.S., at $1.575 trillion.   China ships 17% of its exports to the U.S., creating a $315 billion trade deficit in 2012.  China does a lot of manufacturing for foreign corporations, including American firms.  In effect, a lot of China’s exports are actually for American companies for American consumers (Amadeo 2015a).

In addition, China is the largest foreign holder of U.S. Treasury bills, bonds and notes[1]. As of May 2015, China owned $1.27 trillion in US treasuries. This amount is a little over one-fifth (or 20.8%) of the $6.1 trillion public debt held by foreign countries (U.S. Treasury 2015).  Owning U.S. treasuries helps China by keeping its yuan weaker vis-à-vis the U.S. dollar, which in turn makes its exports competitive and creates jobs for the Chinese working people.  Specifically, the Chinese hold their currency, the yuan, at a fixed rate compared to a basket of currencies, mainly comprised by the US dollar.  When the dollar falls in value, China buys U.S. treasuries which increases the demand for the dollar and appreciates its value.  On the other hand, the sale of public debt to China allows the U.S. economy to grow by way of increased federal government programs.  This is especially important as the U.S. had been facing budget (albeit shrinking) deficits in recent years (Timaraos 2015).

China’s role as America’s largest banker obviously gives it some political leverage.  Every now and then, China threatens to sell part of its debt holdings. It knows that if it did, U.S. interest rates would rise slowing U.S economic growth.  China does this whenever the U.S. allows the value of the dollar to drop, which makes the debt China holds less valuable.  It is not an unalloyed weapon at the hands of the Chinese, however.  China would not call in its U.S. debt all at once. If it did so, the demand for the dollar would drop like a rock. This dollar collapse would disrupt international markets worse than the 2008 financial crisis. China’s economy would suffer along with everyone else’s.  More likely, China would slowly begin selling off its Treasury holdings. Even when it just warns that it plans to do so, dollar demand starts to drop. This hurts China’s competitiveness, as it raises its export prices, so U.S. consumers start buying U.S.-made products instead. China must further expand its exports to other Asian countries, and increase domestic demand, before it can call in its U.S. debt holdings.  (Amadeo 2015a and Amadeo 2015b).

The extended discussion above illustrates how economically co-dependent the U.S. and China had become in recent years.  This complicates the strategic relationship between the two powers.  In a way, the post-modern and hip concept of being ‘frenemies’ is apropos for both states.  This unprecedented relationship sharply contrasts the US-Soviet relationship during the Cold War.  Notwithstanding the détente period, the enmity between the two is undeniable.  In no way were both powers dependent on each other economically as trade and economic exchanges between the two were largely circumscribed by strategic considerations.  Embargos and trade controls were imposed by the U.S. and its European allies on the Soviet Union.  The basic idea is to prevent the Soviets from strengthening themselves through trade with the West.  No such similar inhibitions informed the U.S. China economic relations.

Both states realize this co-dependence and seek to leverage the fact to each other’s advantage.  From the American viewpoint, China has to weigh the consequences of recklessness and the possible loss of the opportunities and advantages of behaving responsibly within the context of U.S.-led international regime.  On the Chinese side, meanwhile, they seek to find out how much the envelope could be pushed before the Americans decide that strategic considerations are weightier than economic consequences.  The situation is one where two powers need each other but are mindful of power balance between them.  Obviously, being ‘frenemies’ is more complicated and less straightforward than being outright foes.  This dynamic is bound to prevail for decades to come.

_______________

Note:

[1] The U.S. debt is the sum of all outstanding debt owed by the Federal Government. It’s greater than $18 trillion, and is tracked by the national debt clock. America’s debt is the largest in the world for a single country. It runs neck and neck with that of the European Union, which is an economic union of 28 countries. Nearly two-thirds is the public debt, which is owed to the people, businesses and foreign governments who bought Treasury bills, notes and bonds (Amadeo 2015c).


“The changing triangular relations between the Philippines, the United States and the People’s Republic China: From Obama, Aquino, and Xi and beyond”

 

Amado M. Mendoza, Jr. and Richard Javad Heydarian

Part II

The situation summarized

To sum up, the Philippine government under the incumbent President Benigno Aquino III, soured its relations with China and cozied up further to its American ally, a power supposed to be rapidly implementing a ‘pivot’ (now ‘rebalancing’) to Asia in an ill-disguised attempt to contain the rising regional power.

In truth, a new but different cold war between the United States and China has started (Hendricks 2015) and the Philippines had enlisted as a frontline state.

It is true that relations between the Philippines (PH) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) are currently frosty, nay, hostile and troubled even.  Relations between the two countries (unequal in size, assets, power and influence) had not been quite straightforward since the PRC’s creation in October 1949.  The appropriate metaphor is that of a roller-coaster (with the characteristic ups-and-downs).  Furthermore, it would be very difficult to understand the bilateral Philippine-Chinese relations without situating it within a trilateral (or triangular) perspective—that is relations between the United States, the Philippines, and China.  However, as the relations between the Philippines and China changed over the years, it is not always the case that the changes benefited the Philippines in a clear manner.

FM and Mao

While the rather unfriendly (hostile, in fact) between the two during the 1950s up to the early 1970s was understandable (given the Cold War context), warm relations during the Ferdinand E. Marcos presidency (1965-1986) brought unmistakable gains both to the Philippines and China.  The Philippines did not in fact go out on a limb since the United States, the so-called leader of the Free World during the Cold War, already reached out first to Mao Ze-dong, China’s supreme leader, to forge an alliance versus the Soviet Union (a strategic development made possible by the acrimonious Sino-Soviet split in the 1960s).  In an astute move, Marcos leveraged the diplomatic opening to get China to stop supporting the Maoist insurgency (carried out the Communist Party of the Philippines-led New People’s Army) in the Philippines.  The repeating botching by the New People’s Army (NPA) of smuggling operations of firearms and munitions supplied by China also factored in Beijing’s decision to distance itself from the Philippine Maoists (see Allan 1974, Feria 1993, Hamilton-Paterson 1998, and Malay 2005).  On the other hand, China likewise benefited tremendously from this anti-Soviet American initiative since it regained its seat in the powerful United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the one-China policy was adopted by most UN members leading to Taiwan’s loss of UN stature.  China’s good fortune simply demonstrates anew the timeless wisdom of real-politik: that is, “the enemy of your principal enemy is a friend, albeit tactical”.

Cory Aquino

However, President Marcos’ initiatives towards China were reversed by President Corazon C. Aquino (1986-1992), who tried to extend the US military bases’ stay in the country.  Her successor, President Fidel V. Ramos (1992-1998) looked east (though to Taiwan[1] and South Korea[2]) when the US-Philippine ties turned frosty after the military bases’ exit in 1991.  However, as China started asserting its sovereignty in the South China Sea (SCS) in the mid-1990s, the Philippines renewed its relations with the US through the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) during President Erap Estrada’s short-lived administration (1998-2001).

The relationship took a different, friendlier turn during Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s presidency (2001-2010) when China undertook its so-called ‘charm offensive’.  Concretely, this meant loans, investments, and increased trade and tourist traffic from China to the Philippines.  It was also during this time that a trilateral joint venture (between China, Vietnam, and the Philippines) to conduct a seismic survey of possible offshore oil and natural gas deposits in the SCS was formed.  This joint venture involving three claimant states was made possible by hewing to the late Deng Xiao-ping’s formula of “joint-use-despite-ownership-questions”. However, the relationship between the two countries was soured by the ZTE national broad-band network scandal. It was quite clear that President Arroyo and her conferees, relatives and friends wanted to personally profit from the improvement of the bilateral relationship.  As a result, the ZTE contract and the joint seismic survey were either cancelled and/or allowed to expire as President Arroyo attended to domestic political crises.

Relations went downhill since then as China tried to improve its position in the SCS as well to Balkanize the ASEAN regional organization through a judicious carrots-and-sticks strategy.  A first happened in 2012–the non-issuance of an ASEAN Summit statement due to the lack of unity on China’s activities in the South China Sea.

While the Philippines is supposedly praised by the international community for standing up to a more powerful China and entered into an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United States in mid-July 2014, it currently is in a disadvantageous position vis-à-vis its biggest neighbor.  This is true even if friends located farther away (aside from the US, Japan, South Korea and Australia) are pledging their support, these ‘protestations’ of help has not changed China’s conduct.  Now, things have gone worse as a new Cold War is afoot in the western Pacific Rim, a development that bodes ill for East Asia’s economic health.  In due course, China’s activism had caused the emergence of a firm anti-China regional alliance composed of the United States, Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines.

In this regard, however, the Philippines is not joined by other member-states in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).  Even if Thailand is a treaty ally of the US, it has not ranged itself firmly against China.  Malaysia cannot be expected to join the Philippines firmly since it is also an SCS claimant.  The same is true with Vietnam who is not only also a claimant but shares land borders with China.  It must be recalled that China invaded Vietnam in force in 1979 during what was then called the Third Indochina War.  The same circumspection is also exhibited by the other poorer mainland states such as Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia—states which had received great largesse from China’s patronage.  The newest state in Southeast Asia—Timor Leste (not yet an ASEAN member) is in the same situation.  After the fall of Suharto, Indonesia has become inward-looking as she tries to consolidate a new democracy.  Singapore can be likened to a businessman and is naturally conservative, more so in its foreign policy and relations.

rp-us-defense-deal-signing-20140428-001

In short, the Philippines really stands alone vis-a-vis China, notwithstanding the case it filed before the ITLOS (International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea).  It will also have to face the consequences of an unfavorable decision (even as it seems the country has not prepared itself for such contingency).  The US may be an ally but she is also mired elsewhere—in the fight against ISIS (aka ISIL and IS), Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, and in many other places—and thus may not be able to assist the Philippines well even if it wants to.  It remains to be seen if the recent (public relations) move of the US Pacific Fleet chief to join a reconnaissance flight is an indication of the US’ firm resolve to stop China’s SCS activism (AP 2015).   It is a question of capacity falling short of will, a matter of “imperial over-stretch”—that the British historian Paul Kennedy warned about in the late 1980s.[3]  The US is scrambling to pivot or rebalance its forces from the Atlantic and other theaters (of operation) to the Asia Pacific region to supposedly maintain freedom of navigation in international waters and airspace.  The US is also encouraging its Northeast Asian allies in the region to help it encircle China—a new encirclement reminiscent of the overall containment strategy directed against the USSR and its Warsaw Pact allies as well as China during the Cold War.

Shinzo Abe

Given its own territorial disputes with China, Japan (especially under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe) has not only pushed back in the Yellow Sea (in the context of the Chinese-Japanese territorial dispute over the so-called Senkaku or Diaoyu islands).  Tokyo has also offered material assistance to embroiled countries in Southeast Asia.[4]  South Korea meanwhile clinched a deal to supply a squadron of advanced FA-50 multi-role jets to the Philippines with the first delivery of 2 planes expected in December 2015.[5]

Indeed, the strategic environment in East Asia is unfolding, albeit in a rapid fashion.  An appropriate (even if old) theory that could help better understand the new East Asian strategic environment exists.  The Power Transition theory is a theory about the cyclical nature of war, in relation to power (of states) in international relations.   Created by A.F.K. Organski, and originally published in his textbook, World Politics (1958), contemporary power transition theory describes international politics as a hierarchy, with different degrees of power between states. The objective of the theory is to investigate the cyclic condition of wars, and how transition of power in terms of machtpolitik affect the occurrence of these wars.

Organski World Politics

The principal predictive power of the theory is in the likelihood of war and the stability of alliances.  War is most likely, of longest duration and greatest magnitude, when a challenger (a revisionist power; one of the great powers) to the dominant power (the global hegemon) enters into approximate parity with the dominant state and is dissatisfied with the existing system. Similarly, alliances are most stable when the parties to the alliance are satisfied with the system structure. This leads to the view that when the balance of power is unstable (i.e. one or two nations have taken a dominant role in geopolitics), the likelihood of war is greater.

According to Organski:

An even distribution of political, economic, and military capabilities between contending groups of states is likely to increase the probability of war; peace is preserved best when there is an imbalance of national capabilities between disadvantaged and advantaged nations; the aggressor will come from a small group of dissatisfied strong countries; and it is the weaker, rather than the stronger; power that is most likely to be the aggressor.

Using Organski’s theory, China can be characterized as a ‘revisionist’ power dissatisfied with the existing balance of forces in the world as well as in Asia.  Meanwhile, the United States is a ‘status quo’ power (or a standpatter) working to preserve its hegemony.  It is joined by other status quo powers like Japan, South Korea, and Australia. Since it does not share US interests and preferences, the Russian Federation under President Vladimir Putin is China’s natural ally.[6]  The same is true with Pyongyang since Seoul is on the opposing side.  India is in a predicament since it shares a land border with China and fought a brief border war with the latter in the 1960s.  Geopolitical realities may force India to either align with China or opt for neutrality in the conflict.

___________________________________________________________________________

Notes:

[1] Taiwan responded to its diplomatic isolation with a ‘carrot-diplomacy’ on its own: ensuring the flow of loans, direct investments, and ODA to friendly countries who are willing to accept the diplomatic fiction called TECO, or Taiwan Economic Cooperation Office, in their respective capitals, which in truth are the equivalent of embassies of duly-recognized states.  Taiwan was able to dispense carrots around the world (the Philippines included) given its economic prosperity and hefty international reserves.  In fact, China’s new economic policy helped by stimulating cross-Strait economic and socio-cultural relations between Beijing and Taipei in a parallel of South Korea’s ‘sunshine policy’ vis-à-vis North Korea.

[2] South Korea joined the ranks of the advanced industrial economies grouped in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in the mid-1990s even before she was temporarily convulsed by the shocks generated by the so-called Asian Financial Crisis in the late 1990s.  The setback in Seoul proved to be short-lived as economic growth was restored in the 2000s albeit on a different basis compared to the growth sparked by the state-capitalist regime initiated by South Korean leader Park Chung-hee in the 1970s and 1980s.

[3] Paul Kennedy. 1987. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. New York: Random House/Vintage Books.

[4] In mid-2013, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised to supply ‘grey’ (combat) patrol vessels to the Philippines during a state visit. Please see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/30/shinzo-abe-china-disputes_n_5418205.html and http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2013/07/26/1014401/japan-pm-manila-state-visit.

[5] Please see http://www.rappler.com/nation/77956-aquino-philippines-fighter-jets.

[6]  Russia had recently agreed to sell its most advanced S-400 missile systems to China.  Please see   <http://www.themoscowtimes.com/business/article/china-and-russia-sign-contract-for-s-400-missile-systems/519010.html&gt;.


“The changing triangular relations between the Philippines, the United States and the People’s Republic China: From Obama, Aquino, and Xi and beyond”[1]

 

Amado M. Mendoza, Jr. and Richard Javad Heydarian[2]

The triangular relationship between three states–the Philippines, the United States of America, and the People’s Republic of China (the former a minor power and the other two are great or major powers)–is defined and promoted by each of these states according to their best lights and interests.  Notwithstanding the twist and turns of the trilateral relationship and subsidiary bilateral relationships, the conduct of the major powers in relating with each other is marked by ‘pragmatic opportunism’. Meanwhile, the Philippines is guided by naive incompetence under-girded by a failure to recognize an ally’s strategic opportunism as well as an unfounded belief that the ally is always there or could be forced to be there to protect Philippine interests vis-a-vis the PRC.  Such incompetence is a function not only of naiveté but also of wishful thinking, the lack of a strategic planning culture, and plain laziness amongst Filipino policy-making elites.

Pnoy Aquino

Fareed Zakaria, the plagiarizing pundit so beloved by American media, opined that the so-called post-American world is not about the decline of the United States but rather the rise of everybody else.  Zakaria is as usual too effusive and sanguine; not everybody else will rise or has risen.  Consider Africa. Has it undeniably profited from the opportunities generated by contemporary globalization?  How about the war-torn and failed states of Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, and Senegal?

Chinese President Xi Jinping takes part in a meeting with his French counterpart at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on March 26, 2014 in Paris. Xi was set today to sign a series of major business deals on the second day of a lavish state visit to France.  Xi is on his first-ever European tour and after visiting The Netherlands and France will head to Germany and Belgium.   AFP PHOTO POOL CHRISTOPHE ENA

In truth, what are quite clear are the rise of China (the People’s Republic of China, or PRC) and the resurgence of the Asian region as a whole.  The world is indeed changing; more particularly, the locus of economic power has been shifting from a (by now Old) New World in Europe and North America to a (by now New) New World in Asia.  Wracked by public economic malaise and simultaneously hollow and hyper-financialized economies, the West is apparently playing second fiddle to the East in a seeming return of the world’s center of gravity to a region that held sway in ancient times (See Kohli, Sharma and Sood 2011 and Nye 2015; for a differing viewpoint, see Dollar 2007).

Barack Obama

Talk is rife about a new Asian century.  This conference was in fact premised on this shift to the East and inquires into how the Philippines will (and should?) respond to the varied and multi-faceted challenges generated by a rapidly-changing strategic (regional and global) environment.  Key to this endeavor is an analysis of the country’s relationship with two key powers—the United States of America (USA) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

This paper argues that the Philippines has clung to and continues to abide by an outmoded and wishful appraisal of the capabilities and intentions of its American ally.  Consequently, it has erred in the conduct of its relations with a powerful rising neighbor, China.  The mistakes have particularly piled up during the current presidential administration of President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, who hopefully will step down from office on the last day of June next year.  In preparation for a post-Aquino foreign policy, this paper will suggest some ways to rectify these errors.  However, a clinical understanding of the current situation is necessary to undertake such reforms.

__________________________________________

[1] Paper presented at the 1st Asian Politics & Policy International Conference, UP Asian Center, 25 July 2015. It is still a draft and should not be cited without the corresponding author’s knowledge.

[2] Mendoza is full professor of political science at the University of the Philippines (Diliman) while Heydarian is assistant professor of political science at the De La Salle University (Manila).  Comments are welcome and should be address to the corresponding author through ammendozajr@gmail.com.

____________________________________________________

References:

Dollar, D. 2007. “Asian Century or Multi-polar Century.” World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 4174.

Kohli, H., Sharma, A., and Sood, A. eds. 2011. Asia 2050: Realizing the Asian Century. Singapore: Sage Publications.

Nye, Joseph Jr. 2015. “The future of U.S.-China Relations.” Brazilian Journal of International Relations 4(1): 7-20.