Posts Tagged ‘United States’


“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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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“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.


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.  But that has not always been the case. And need not be the case since the current state of affairs is not beneficial to both.  It is in fact detrimental to both states’ interests; and therefore must be changed, for the better.

Chinese female soldiers

The truth of the matter is that 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 twists and turns benefited the Philippines in a very clear manner. Thus a change in policy that will be mutually beneficial to both the Philippines and China (and even the United States) is not only possible.  It is desirable.

While the rather unfriendly (hostile, in fact) relations 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 administration (1965-1986) brought unmistakable gains both to the Philippines and China.

mao-imelda-marcos

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’s nod to stop supporting the Maoist insurgency (carried out by the Communist Party of the Philippines-led New People’s Army) in the Philippines.

NPA guerillas

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”.

However, President Marcos’ initiatives towards China was 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) as 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 her own political survival in the Philippines.

zte-logo-002

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.  In fact, Cambodia managed to do what was never done before in ASEAN’s here-to-fore long existence—prevent the issuance of a Summit statement in 2012.

While the Philippines is supposedly praised by the international community for standing up to a more powerful China, while it entered into an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA)  with long-time ally with the United States in mid-July 2014, it currently is in a disadvantageous position vis-à-vis its 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 policy.

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 solidly joined by its co-member states in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Even if Thailand is a treaty ally of the US, it has decided that it is not to its national interest to range 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.

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).

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 truly assist the Philippines well even if it wants to.  It is a more 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 (but actually to contain a rising China, in our opinion).  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 during the Cold War.

Senkaku-Diaoyu-Tiaoyu-Islands

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, notwithstanding the realization on the part of all actors that the adverse turn may not be aligned with their mutual and strategic benefit and interests.

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. (Abramo Fimo Kenneth) 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.

Thus, a new cold war is afoot in East Asia (or the eastern Pacific rim) involving great powers (both status quo and revisionists) plus their allies.

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[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;.


 

 

 

 

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


PRC flag (taken at the Jinan University, Guangzhou, September 2013

PRC flag (taken at the Jinan University, Guangzhou, September 2013)

The People’s Republic of China is a revisionist rather than a status quo power. These rather old concepts still apply in this case. Despite appearing to have been socialized with the “civilized” behavior of the international community states, China seeks changes in the international order according to what it reads as best for its interests.

It may be a member of the United Nations Security Council, yet China is not secure. Compared to the Cold War period, the only improvement is rapprochement with Russia. On its flanks, China is hemmed in by hostiles like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, and further afield–Australia.

China in Asia

China in Asia

China is basically a land power with a brown-water navy. While the US 7th fleet had a more formidable presence during the Cold War (it had an anti-Soviet orientation), this time American naval forces have an undisguised anti-Chinese orientation.

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia

China seeks to build its forces steadily so it can over-match the opposition, the US included. It asserts its territorial claims for the twin purpose of interdicting sea lines of communications as well as pushing forward lines of defense. It has not entirely abandoned its charm offensive in so far as Cambodia, Myanmar, and Timor Leste are concerned. It wants to drive a wedge within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It is cautious with Vietnam and other territorial claimants in Southeast Asia. Cambodia and Myanmar offer possible outlets to the Gulf of Thailand and the Indian Ocean via the Bay of Bengal.

Indian sub-continent

Indian sub-continent

Only the Philippines is treated in a different manner. The Chinese leadership have apparently written the Philippines off. The resort to hard power is addressed more to the United States than Manila. The question seems to be: what will you do for your ally beyond the issuance of official communiques? To themselves: to what extent can we push the envelope?

With the key powers in the sub-continents–India and Pakistan–China have good relations. It’s true that India was closer to the Soviet Union during the Cold War given that a war was fought with China over disputed territory. The US sought to improve relations with India post-Cold War but India refuses to be trapped in a monogamous relationship. In addition, the US has cohabited with Pakistan, India’s principal enemy, for a long time. Pakistan will not change its anti-India orientation but it is doubtful if it could be mobilized in an anti-China effort.

China’s activities in sub-Saharan Africa are intended to create friendly spheres of influence through soft power. What is interesting is China’s pointed willingness to do business with states and leaders that are frowned upon by the Western powers.

China is obviously not a global power. Its current programme is to achieve parity with the United States in the East Asian theater. Whether it will go beyond what its currently doing is an empirical matter.

Who are China’s allies in the East Asian theater?

Together with Russia, China is a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a Eurasian political, economic, and security organization. However, SCO is principally oriented to Central rather than East Asia.

Shanghai Cooperation Organization

Shanghai Cooperation Organization

In the Yellow Sea region, only North Korea is apparently China’s ally. Its reliability is rather suspect. Opposing China is Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the American military forces.

Northeast Asia: The Yellow Sea region

Northeast Asia: The Yellow Sea region

The US alliances established during the Cold War with Thailand and the Philippines are still intact and the latter’s forces exercise regularly with the US and other American allies like Australia for inter-operability.

In short, China seems to be alone while the other side is heavily populated.

Why then is the apparently weaker and out-numbered side making very bold and provocative initiatives (at least vis-a-vis the Philippines and Japan)?

It is less risk-averse. Its moves are calibrated. It stops short of making a move that will invite catastrophic consequences. If an earlier move is more or less unanswered and gains are made, it will raise the ante until the returns are no longer attractive. It may lay low for a while and launch a new offensive in the future.

Such is the nature of revisionist powers. They will always take the initiative. I cannot imagine them to be merely reactive.


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.