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?

Refugee crisis being used as another pretext for war with Syria

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The tragedy that is the exodus of refugees from the Middle East to Europe in recent weeks has already claimed first-order policy concerns from Europe’s capitals. Branded as the ‘worst migrant crisis since World War II” the situation has been blamed on innocent people leaving from ‘war, oppression, and economic uncertainty.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that although the nationalities of the refugees are mixed, Syrians comprise the biggest number of fleeing people for safety into Turkey and the rest of Europe.

Now that the refugee situation has reached European shores and cities, Western imperialist powers have started to claim that the crisis would not have been this appalling if not for American inaction and avoidance of the use of military force. For instance, in an op-ed piece featured in the American government-sponsored New York Times, the author maintained that “American non-interventionism can be equally devastating, as Syria illustrates. Not doing something is no less of a decision than doing it.”

Such a statement clearly smacks in the face of the Syrian refugees fleeing their country, where their plight can be directly blamed on Western policies that created those ‘moderate rebels’ who have been stubbornly but openly funded by the United States, as a result of Obama’s interventionist policy on Syria. On the one hand, it is interesting to observe that the increase in refugees fleeing the region has coincided with the intensification of NATO’s bombing of ISIS positions in the country. The civil war has been waging for close to 5 years now, and yet this is the only time when the number of people fleeing has reached record levels.

As tragic as it is, this is as a result of the United States’ policy of “Assad must go.”

Back in 2011, when euphoria for the so-called Arab Spring was at its zenith, Western capitals hailed it as the arrival of ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ to the common peoples of the Middle East, who finally ‘awakened’ to the decades-old tyranny of their ‘despotic’ leaders. In their minds, without sending boots on the ground to topple the region’s dictators, the citizens of these countries have chosen to pursue a peaceful path to a better future. Fast forward to today, and the grim horrors of that triumphalist ‘idealization’ continue to disappoint.

In late 2013, the same strategy of playing the emotional card was employed, when Western media outlets quickly blamed the chemical weapon attacks on the Syrian government, where scores of people where shown to have died as a result. Evidence has since shown that the chemical weapon attack came from the ‘moderate rebels’ whose aim was to use it as a pretext for American military intervention (again), but this time in Syria.

In the past few weeks, American policy makers and their Western European counterparts have been escalating the drumbeat on yet another attempt at bringing boots on the ground to fight Bashar Al Assad, but this time seizing upon the refugee crisis and the supposed “Russian involvement’ inside Syria.

Directly or hidden, Washington’s involvement in Syria is undeniable: from Obama’s ‘responsibility to protect’ excuses to the issuance of no fly zones and now the bombing of extremists which it helped create in the first place. Here’s a stimulating point to think about: as the self-proclaimed defender of ‘freedom’ and ‘humanitarian’ nonsense, what if the United States actually did more for the Syrian people?

What if the United States actually helped the Syrian people by taking in more refugees than, say, Germany and Sweden, both of which have taken in the most number of refugees in continental Europe? Germany alone is expected to receive 800,000 refugees this year. In comparison, the United States has just accepted 1,500 Syrian refugees since the war broke out in 2011, a fact that has caused disdain from many, including from the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

On the contrary, Western media outlets were quick to blame ‘gateway countries’ like Hungary for being lukewarm to this humanitarian catastrophe. Nowhere in the mainstream news media can you hear the role played by the West in perpetuating this suffering, so much so that quietly, those responsible (UK and the US) are contemplating bombing Syria even more.

Regardless of their final decision to bomb Syria into extinction, it is clear that where Western involvement is concerned, the results are nothing short of devastating. What happened to the Middle East in the past five years alone is vindication of the unintended consequences of projecting a dying unilateralism in an age of choice.

America has the Exclusive Right to Bomb the World

US Secretary of State John Kerry meeting Syrian rebels

US Secretary of State John Kerry meeting Syrian rebels

The past few months since the Syrian chemical weapon incident have seen a sensational back and forth action in international politics. On the one hand, Obama had played a very safe but misleading role in the resolution of the conflict.

Obama cautious on the outcome of British Commons vote

There is no denying the American president played his Democrat-cards well. As the representative of the party supposedly-opposed to wars abroad (unlike the Republicans), he halfheartedly  rallied for an intervention on the Syrian conflict by waiting for the outcome of the British House of Commons on their vote against an attack on Syria.

The epic August 30 disavowal against David Cameron’s support for another British-and-American misadventure reassured the international community that a decade is not too distant to forget the humiliation and outcome of the Iraq and Afghan carnage wrought by the United States. Despite the UK’s backing out of the Syria strike, Obama says the US will “continue to consult” its British ally.

Obama ‘consults’ Congress on Syria intervention

In a ‘true’ Democrat move, Obama, the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, played again a safe but misleading path to a ‘resolution’ on the Syria conflict by presenting Congress intelligence reports that apparently proved Bashar al-Assad’s hands on the most recent chemical attack. Certainly, on the back of Obama’s head, he knows he will be denied the vote he needs for authorization of another ‘coalition of the willing’ on Syria.

Now who could deny Obama’s heroism after the Congress turn-down? Undeniably in his Oval Office, the president is whispering he did what he could but that Congress was to blame for a failure to authorize the bombing of another Muslim country. At a lecture at the University of Michigan, David North described the US Syria policy as possibly a “carefully planned diplomatic masterstroke.”

American media’s disgusting propaganda  against Syria

Below the official Washington statements, the media, headed by CNN, has been skillfully playing their deception, including:

• The dropping of the word ‘alleged’ chemical weapons use from news

• That if it weren’t for America’s threat, the Syrian government will not be willing to negotiate (from the beginning, Bashar Al-Assad and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed a peaceful resolution of the conflict, and so the willingness-to-negotiate trophy should go to Russia, not the US)

• That Syria’s possession of chemical weapons violates international rules, forgetting that this is the ‘best’ Syrian deterrent against Israel’s far more destructive and illegal possession of nuclear weapons

• That the Syrian rebels are being likened to the ‘freedom fighters’ supported by the West and Saudi Arabia against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan back in the 80s

• In lieu of the threat to use force, there is no mention on how extensive the West supports the rebels in Syria. In fact, the decision to use force is in large part dictated by the desperate situation of the Syrian rebels

Russia’s role in conflict resolution

If there is any other international leader who should be eulogized for brokering a deal on the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, it should be Russian president Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin leader knows that a peace deal is the only path to Syria’s return to normalcy, and he knew this from the beginning. Record-wise, Putin was a staunch renouncer of Western interventionism in the past.

In a recent gathering with academics and research analysts in Russia, he felt comfortable in criticizing the West’s double standards (especially with Israel), hypocrisy, and moral decline. Vis-à-vis Israel, the Russian leader proposed to eliminate weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, which happens to include Israel’s secret nukes and Syria’s chemical weapons.

Also at the recent Shanghai Security Organization (SCO) meeting held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Putin insisted that “military interference from outside the country without a UN Security Council sanction is admissible” and that the summit jointly opposed “Western intervention in Syria, as well as the loosening of the internal and regional stability in the Middle East.”

As in the past, China, for its part, mostly favors Russia’s foreign policy. At the SCO meeting, Chinese president Xi Jinping expressed his country’s opposition to a Western-led strike against Syria, which is a close ally of Iran,  a major energy supplier to China.

The Iran Response

Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani, perceived as a moderate statesman, attended the SCO meeting, where he agreed on keeping Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, adding that this has given “hope that we will be able to avoid a new war in the region.”

UN Vote Upgrades Palestine to “non-member state” Status

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The Big News

While alarmists warn that abrupt changes equate to instability and uncertainty, some developments just keep defying the status quo. Palestine last week has successfully been granted a “non-member” observer State status at the United Nations General Assembly.

The 193-member assembly adopted a vote that saw 138 in favor and 9 against the resolution. Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said this is a significant step in achieving Palestine’s independence as well as brings it closer to rectifying “unprecedented historical injustice” inflicted on the Palestinian people since 1948.

Unsurprisingly, the upgrade has been met with condemnation in Israel. Just as the vote concluded, Israel announced it will go ahead with new settlements in occupied territory including a high-profile construction plan near Jerusalem. Israeli spokesperson Mark Regev said that this development will further withdraw constructive dialogue and that “its going to hurt peace.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel will withhold badly-needed tax transfers to Palestinians and that his government “rejects the U.N General Assembly decision.”

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice also openly denounced the resolution, echoing her Israeli allies saying that her government does not support a measure that undermines direct talks and that the November 22 decision did “not establish Palestine as a state.” She also added that the decision will not advance peace in the Middle East. With Washington’s backing, Israel lobbied voting nations to oppose the measure, but failed miserably. Israel’s position was so unpopular that even its traditional allies/sympathizers either abstained or voted for the Palestinians.

On the other hand, the Israeli and American statements were met with concern by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, expressing that such “would represent any almost fatal blow to remaining chances for securing a two-state solution.” Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief was quoted as saying “the European Union has repeatedly stated that all settlement construction is illegal under international law and constitutes an obstacle to peace.”

The Big Repercussions

Finally in its modern period, Palestine now has the capacity for self determination, especially before an international criminal court. It can now claim rights to independent development, free of Israel. This means that Palestine now can  independently control its borders, or assert its own security and pursue its own trade with the world.

There can be no denying that the Palestinian upgrade to statehood can mean only good things for its people and its future. Abbas was jubilant and optimistic for his people, saying “we now have a state…the world has said loudly, ‘Yes to the state of Palestine.”

But as these developments seal a better self-determination for Palestine, Israel is met with a new set of problems of its own. For one, with the upgrade to non-member observer state status, Palestine can now be a party to the Statute of the International Court of Justice, similar to Switzerland’s accession in 1946 when the General Assembly accepted it as a Permanent Observer to the United Nations. As such, Palestine now can file complaints against Israel in the world court. Palestine now also has the choice to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and file a complaint against Israel on war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly even genocide.

Can the US (and Israel) block complaints by Palestine? Unfortunately for them, they cannot, since they are not signatories of the Rome treaty. Much like how they arrogantly behaved at the recent Assembly, the US  announced back in 2002 that “the United States does not intend to become a party to the treaty,” and that, “[a]ccordingly, the United States has no legal obligations arising from its signature.” On the other hand, Israel’s indifference and naive behavior betrays not only international trust but also its very existence — it does not recognize the resolution that permitted the Palestinian upgrade to non-member observer state status and yet it forgets the fact that its very own existence was a result of 1948 UN resolution which permitted its right to self determination and independent existence.