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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Obama Ignores China in Asian Tour

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US President Barack Obama has recently concluded a four-country tour of Asia, ending it with a rather undeniable reassuring that America will remain the dominant military force in the region.

The visit does not pretend to be about anything else, with a first-stop visit to Japan (presently involved in tense territorial disputes with China) and ending with a renewed military agreement with the Philippines.

Obama’s visit also reassured the region besides military obligations, including the muddled Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement which aims to lower trade barriers between the most economically dynamic region in the world and the US.

In hindsight, all of these ‘high-profile’ gestures highlight what was missing: the involvement of China.

Military Intimidation Shrouded in Neutrality

The message is clear since Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ proclamation in 2011: lest it forgets, the US must reassure China that no other power should try to ‘change the status quo’, for better or for worse. This ‘rebalancing’ of power, a shift of US military emphasis from the Middle East to the Pacific (China’s borders, from the Pacific to South Asia), has been cheerfully greeted by the region’s leaders.

Obama’s visit to Japan finally shows that the Washington is not neutral in the island disputes in the region. In a press conference in Tokyo, he stated that the US and Japan have a mutual security treaty that covers the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands–a complete about-face to his past statements regarding territorial disputes between China and Japan.

Benigno Aquino, President of the Philippines, (son of former President Corazon Aquino who was put to power by the American government in the late 1980s), hailed a new ten-year defense pact with the US as an agreement that “reaffirms our countries’ commitment to mutual defense and security, and promotes regional peace and stability.”

One common theme in this is their willingness to be part of Washington’s new focus on Asia. Indeed it seems to ‘work’ both ways: with the waning of American military power the US pushes these countries to be more aggressive against China, while the same countries can focus on developing their economies and outsource their defense and security needs to Washington.

Economic Partnership a “Bridge to Far”

Actively promoted by the United States, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) aims to give China’s neighbors an alternative to Beijing’s economic clout through less trade barriers and bureaucracy. China’s economic might, role, and influence in the global economy is undeniable. As such, a trade agreement that fails to include the second-biggest economy in the world (some speculate it to surpass the US as early as 2016), is a failure in itself already.

For instance, in the bilateral trade between Japan and the US, there has been suspicion on both sides about unfair government protectionist policies (Japanese automobile industry) and unfair government subsidies (US agriculture). Obama’s latest visit just showed how difficult it is to accomplish anything beyond the trade barriers.

And history is on the side of the free trade skeptics: today it is widely accepted that free trade agreements are discriminatory by nature, which is the reason why most economists today prefer to call the free trade agreements (FTAs) as preferential trade agreements (PTAs).

Indeed, the more Obama denied his visit was not about China, the more it was perceived as being about militarily and economically containing China.