South China Sea: How the Philippines is being used as geostrategic pawn by the US

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It turns out that vis-à-vis the South China Sea dispute, the Philippines not only lacks in understanding their neighbor, but also exposes Filipinos as being ignorant to how it is being manipulated by Western powers, particularly the United States, to counter China’s undeniable influence in the region and to the rest of the world.

A month has passed since The Hague ruling regarding the arbitration case concerning the Philippines’ right to be heard in its claims to the disputed seas. What most Filipinos do not know is the fact that this ruling put before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea only covers the legal status of the maritime dispute, as opposed to whether the said ruling decides on who owns anything.

Even the tribunal to which the Philippines initiated its arbitration case is not the body that represent the position of the United Nations. As the spokesperson of the UN Secretary General said “the UN doesn’t have a position on the legal and procedural merits of the case or on the disputed claims.”

The reaction from Beijing is understandable and unsurprising, at least from realists observing the issue: it has fiercely rejected the jurisdiction of The Hague ruling on an otherwise sovereignty dispute, and reminded others that the United States is not even a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of The Sea (UNCLOS) and thus compromises Washington’s real intentions on the maritime dispute.

An editorial appearing in The Greenville Post made the correct assumption on the matter stating “many observers, in Beijing and abroad, pointed out that the ruling was clearly political, and that out of five, four judges were citizens of the EU, while one (the chairman) was Ghanaian but also a long-term resident of Europe.”

Also widely unknown to Filipinos is Washington’s clearly stated pivot to Asia policy, which asserts an increased military and political pressure to be pursued against China. This interventionist policy, announced in 2011 when Obama was about to be reelected to office, requires a sustained effort to increase diplomatic and military pressure against what the United States sees as opposing its hegemonic status, including in the South China Sea. As a leading academic in the Philippines correctly asserts “What’s happening is that our political elites are clearly encouraged by the US to provoke China, and there is also the big influence of the US military on our armed forces. I would say that the Philippine military is very vulnerable to such type of ‘encouragement’. So the US is constantly nurturing those confrontational attitudes.”

Even the Philippine government’s ties to the United States during the Cory Aquino administration deserves scrutiny to help understand why the UNCLOS issue was put forward during the time of Benigno Aquino III’s presidency. Although it ultimately failed, it was Cory Aquino who supported the renewal of maintaining US military bases in Subic and Clark. For his part, Aquino III also supported the highly contentious Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) military exercises with the United States. Thus, the timing of putting forward an illegitimate case against China on the South China Sea issue (which the Philippines now calls as West Philippine Sea) should not be surprising and also that  that the Aquinos have been a willing pawn in playing Uncle Sam’s warmongering stance in the region.

Some realist scholars in the Philippines admit that through the decisions made by the previous Arroyo and Aquino III administrations, the United States has successfully inserted ‘anti-terror’ forces in the Philippines which of course is a guise to counter Beijing’s growing interest in the region, a region where some $5 trillion dollars of trade passes annually.

As for the resources stored in the South China Sea itself, Washington’s aim is to ensure that the weakest nations get to control this region, particularly its allies in East Asia. As an observer accurately asserts “We (Filipinos) are totally dependent on foreign companies for the exploitation of our natural resources…Foreign multinationals would greatly profit from the natural resources of the China Sea, if a weak and dependent country like this one (The Philippines) were to be put in charge of them.”

To conclude, undeniably the Philippines’ memory is chillingly short-sighted. Its present guarantor of ‘peace and security’ the United States invaded it a century ago and has made the country an economic, diplomatic, and military puppet ever since. None of these shameless history have ever been put forth by China against the Philippines in the past. Will someone please stand up and remind the Filipinos about their unfortunate history with Uncle Sam?

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