Saturday, April 12, 2014

PH needs to build alliances

By Val G. Abelgas
With its access to Philippine military bases a foregone conclusion, the United States has recently been very aggressive in its stance against China’s aggression in Asia and the Pacific.
News reports have been coming out the past few days from Washington of State Department, Defense Department and Congress officials, saying in explicit terms that the United States would stand by the Philippines against any aggression by China.
On March 31, the State Department criticized China after its Coast Guard tried to block a Philippine vessel that was rotating troops in the tense South China Sea. State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said the attempted Chinese blockade, which led to a two-hour standoff with the Philippine ship, is “a provocative and destabilizing action.”
Harf said the Philippines had permission to re-supply troops stationed in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal because it has kept a naval presence there since before a 2002 declaration of conduct in the South China Sea.
“As a treaty ally of the Republic of the Philippines, the United States urges China to refrain from further provocative behavior by allowing the Philippines to continue to maintain its presence at Second Thomas Shoal,” she added.
On Thursday, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russell cautioned China that it will meet its defense commitments to allies. Russel told a congressional hearing that some Asian countries fear that Russia’s annexation of Crimea could serve as a model for China.
China should not doubt the US commitment to defend its Asian allies and the prospect of economic retaliation should also discourage Beijing from using force to pursue territorial claims in Asia in the way Russia has in Crimea, Russel said.
Then on Sunday, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel drew another parallel with Russia’s incursion in Ukraine when he warned China against unilateral action to resolve territorial disputes with Japan or other Asian countries.
”All nations deserve respect, no matter how large or how small,” Hagel said during a visit to Tokyo. “I think we’re seeing some clear evidence of a lack of respect, and coercion and intimidation with … what the Russians have done in Ukraine,” he told a joint news conference with his Japanese counterpart, Itsunori Onodera.
In the days leading to the US President Barack Obama’s four-nation trip to Asia, US officials have been more robust in their stand against China, accusing it of incremental steps to change the status quo in disputed areas.
Obama will visit the Philippines on a four-nation trip to revive his administration’s foreign policy shift toward Asia to counter China’s rise in Asia, where the US has long been the predominant military power. Obama will also visit Japan, South Korea and Malaysia.
The US firm stance also came after China became even more aggressive in its disputes over some islands in the South China Sea and East China Sea. On March 9, just a few days after Russian troops seized Crimea, Chinese ships blocked two Philippine vessels that were transporting food, supplies and replacement Marines to Ayungin Shoal, where the Philippine Marines intentionally grounded the BRP Sierra Madre in 1999 in response to China’s occupation of the Mischief Reef in 1995. A handful of Marines are deployed in the shoal at any given time since.
China defended its blockade by saying the Philippine vessels were intruding into Chinese territory, and demanded that the Philippines tow away the BRP Sierra Madre.
Last week, two Chinese Coast Guard ships tried to block another civilian supply ship, but the captain of the Philippine boat managed to evade the blockade by navigating through shallow waters, where the Chinese ships couldn’t follow without grounding.
The US showed its support for the Philippines by sending surveillance planes over the Ayungin Shoal.
The Aquino government has apparently been emboldened by the all-out support shown by the US with officials of the Department of Defense, the Department of Foreign Affairs and military officials boldly proclaiming that the country stands ready to defend its sovereignty over the disputed islands.
Despite repeated warnings from the US, we can expect China to continue its bullying in the disputed seas. China has long been salivating in taking control of the disputed islands comprising the Spratlys archipelago because of its vaunted oil and natural has resources, rich fishing grounds and its position as a vital sea lane where majority of commercial ships from Europe and the Middle East pass through.
The islands represent an important part of its future as a superpower because of these reasons. China is highly dependent on imported oil to fuel its industries and the oil in the disputed islands could meet their needs into the future. The rich fishing grounds can also help feed its billions of people and the sea lane can put them in position to control the region economically and militarily.
The Philippines was right in pursuing international arbitration because it obviously hit hard on China, who was angered by the filing of the memorandum to the international tribunal. The Chinese claim obviously has no legal foundation to stand on that’s why they are evading arbitration. Their claims to various territories have been dashed by a 1739 historical map made by French cartographer Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville and printed by a German publishing house that was presented as a gift to Chinese Premier Xi Jinping by German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the Chinese leader’s recent visit to Germany.
The map, according to Kicker Daily News, showed ‘China proper’ as a land mass completely separate from Xinjiang, Tibet, Mongolia and Manchuria, areas or territories over which China has invariably claimed sovereignty or administration for centuries. But perhaps more interesting, according to the online publication, is that Hainan is bordered by a different color, and so is Taiwan. The former is very much a part of the modern China, while the latter is very much disputed.
Reacting to the Philippines’ submission of a legal brief to the international tribunal, China complained that the Philippines is hurting its international image. What image is China talking about? I don’t think it’s ever been good even after they became an economic superpower.
While pursuing arbitration, the country must remain vigilant against any armed provocation by the Chinese, who seems blinded at this time by its extreme desire to gain control of the Spratlys, particularly the oil-rich Recto Bank. While it must continue to press its claim in the international court, the country must begin forming an alliance with the US and its Asian neighbors, like Japan and Vietnam, in case China becomes overly aggressive again as it did in 1974, when its troops killed 74 Vietnamese in a brief battle to take the Paracels in the disputed sea.
Perhaps, Asean countries can take a second look at the now defunct Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) as a strong alliance against Chinese aggression.
The Philippines can never take on China alone. It needs to build alliances to do so.

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