Posts Tagged ‘South China Sea’


“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

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Two great powers with authoritarian or semi-authoritarian political systems should really attend seminars of Dale Carnegie on how to win friends and influence people. Or on how not to help your ‘frenemies’.

I am referring to China and Russia. Due to their heavy-handedness and hard-ball approaches, they manage to augment the ranks of their adversary’s (the US) allies and friends.

China single-handedly pushed the Philippines further into the Americans’ embrace due to its aggressive activism in the South China Sea. The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) of 2014 is the latest (most likely not the last) agreement strengthening US-Philippine strategic ties. Furthermore, Chinese territorial aggressiveness in Northeast Asia is further driving South Korea and Japan into the ‘tacit’ US-led anti-Chinese front. Japan in fact offered a strategic alliance with the Philippines (obviously versus China) last year after ‘gifting’ the Philippine navy with some nifty and spankingly-new fast craft (an obvious improvement over the decades-old US hand-me-downs). Vietnam and the Philippines cozied up to each other again due to Chinese heavy-handedness.

 

 

 

Sealing the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA)

Sealing the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA)

 

 

Elsewhere, Ukraine responded to Russia territorial incursions by firmly siding with the West. Admittedly, Russia was simply a reactor to West-sponsored ouster of a pro-Russian government in Kiyev. However, hardball tactics versus a pro-West successor goverment will only alienate the latter. What it feared–an anti-Russia and pro-West Ukraine–actually came to pass.

Should Ukraine aspire for and gain admission into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) after clinching EU membership, the Russian nightmare of a hostile ‘near abroad’ will materialize. That Western sanctions over the Ukraine question are helping push the Russian economy to a crisis is ‘salt on an open wound’.

Strategically, China and Russia will most likely get drawn together. Partnerships within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and with the rest of the BRIC (i.e., India and Brazil) and Venezuela, Bolivia and other Latin American governments with a left-leaning social policy and an anti-US foreign policy orientation will be strengthened or cultivated. Chinese carrots will continue to be available for pariah African states (over such issues as Darfur).

In Asia, China appears to have finessed with its tack with its billion-dollar funded Asian infrastructure bank and the proposed new Silk Road. However, these new carrots are on offer while consolidation (hardening and construction of new and improved infrastructure) proceeds apace in its newly-‘acquired’ SCS territories.

Meanwhile, the US is smelling like a bed of roses. Notwithstanding the partisan blindness of the Republicans and die-hard Tea Party zealots, the US economy is slowly recovering and all other economic indicators are doing quite well. Of course,the 1%-99% divide remains a serious socio-political thorn.

 

 

(Photo from cyprus-mail.com)

(Photo from cyprus-mail.com)

 

 

 

On the global front the US earned a lot of brownie points with the on-going normalization of ties with Cuba. Kudos to Pope Francis for brokering the bilateral preps. On the other hand, the Americans cannot seem to realize their government’s continued support for isolated Israel’s does not help their war effort against international terror.

I will continue to monitor these global developments and post my observations in this page and elsewhere.


 

In my previous piece which I wrote in response to my good friend Ramon Casiple’s “China’s Dilemma,” I argued that it is the United States and the Philippines which actually have a dilemma over Ayungin.

I based my argument on the fact that the US Senate has yet to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), upon which the Philippine claim is based. The US does not recognize such concepts and principles as archipelagic state, archipelagic waters, and exclusive economic zone upon which the Philippine claim is based.

Since Ayungin and other disputed islands and features in the Western Philippine Sea (a part of the larger South China Sea) are not part of the metropolitan territory of the Republic, I foresee difficulties in invoking the Mutual Defense Treaty between the US and the Philippines to explain why the US cannot come immediately to our aid.

 

For the complete article, click on the link below:

 

 

http://www.interaksyon.com/article/88634/commentary–being-a-us-protectorate-weakened-ph-position-vis-a-vis-china-in-dispute


Flag of the People’s Republic of China

China may have strategic and psychological reasons behind its claims for much of the South China Sea. When the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was inaugurated in 1949, Chairman Mao proudly announced that China has risen; that it has risen  from the shame of colonial subjugation and defeat in war.  China was carved into separate spheres of influence by the Euopean powers and the US in the 19th century.  Its 1911 Revolution failed to improve the national condition.

Since 1949, it has transformed itself into an industrial and nuclear during Mao’s lifetime. While Mao’s rigid doctrines were rejected after his death, the pragmatic policies of his successors were intended to strengthen the country through the so-called Four Modernizations–including that of the economy and the military. The new Chinese leaders invited foreign investors and opened industrial zones and the country’s economy grew spectacularly through exports. China is now the second largest economy of the world.

Chairman Mao Zedong

Now that its economy has grown, China is now poised to project power commensurate to its prosperity. Its immediate objective is to secure its immediate periphery. Since Japan has invaded and conquered parts of China during the Second World War it seeks to pursue disputes in the East China Sea (ECS).

Together with Taiwan, both countries are in dispute over the Japan-administered Senkaku or Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. Lest we forget, China also claims Taiwan as its province. And of course, we are aware of Chinese claims over the Spratly Islands, Paracels and the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea that are disputed by a number of Southeast Asian states and Taiwan. These Chinese claims intrude into or overlap with exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of other states.

Senkaku/Diaoyu/Tiaoyu islands

Disputed areas in the South China Sea

Apart from economic reasons, the Chinese claims should be seen as extensions of their defense lines. If they can indeed establish ownership over SCS waters, they can control important sea lanes of communication and interdict passage of warships. The SCS will be domestic waters which the PLA Navy can freely cruise. The United States is the power that will be most affected by this Chinese aggressive confidence. China is the reason behind the US pivot to Asia–the deployment of 60% of American military assets in Asia. If China owned Scarborough Shoal, its warships will be in a better position to take out a radar facility to be built by the US in the Philippines. To summarize, China’s territorial assertiveness is fueled by pride and strategic considerations and is based on a strong economy.