Saturday, April 12, 2014

US think tank belittles book’s view on sea dispute

by Roy Mabasa

Public service professionals in the Philippines are “among the best any government can produce,” according to one of the most influential conservative research organizations in the United States.

The statement was made by Walter Lohman, director of The Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center. Lohman spoke up for the Philippines after a top global thinker” described the country as “less a country than a ramshackle empire ruled from Luzon” in his latest work about the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) territorial dispute.

The Heritage Foundation is an American conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C. It was ranked fifth in Foreign Policy magazine’s 2009 list of the nation’s most influential think tanks.

Demonstration Of Weakness

In his newly published book “Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific,” American journalist Robert Kaplan also highlighted the seemingly futile attempt of the Philippines to thwart China’s rising power considering the former’s battered armed forces. He described the Philippines’ appeal to international law in pursuit of its territorial claims as “the ultimate demonstration of weakness.”

Kaplan was named by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the world’s “top 100 global thinkers” in 2012. He is the national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine and writer for American global intelligence company Strategic Forecasting, Inc.

In his critique of the book, Lohman, said the author’s depiction of the Philippines “is uncharitable to say the least.”

Book Filled With Misjudgements

In his critique of the book, Lohman, said: “Whatever motivates such a sweeping conclusion, it cannot be an objective examination of the facts,” said Lohman. He dismissed it as a book filled with “mischaracterizations and misjudgments about the current state of affairs” particularly on a chapter devoted to the Philippines’ supposed vain appeal to international law in pursuit of its territorial claims.

“There are many other people of principle in the service of their nation in both government and civil society,” said Lohman. He pointed out that “the country that created President Ferdinand Macros” also produced the “near-sainted parents” of President Benigno Aquino III.

He said Kaplan also failed to fully understand the current state of Washington-Manila relationship as he still sees the Philippines as nothing but “America’s Colonial Burden,” citing the title of one of the book’s chapters.

Mischief Reef

According to Lohman, the Philippines “had long ago re-learned the value of the US-Philippines alliance—if they had indeed forgotten it—at Mischief Reef in 1995.”

The Mischief Reef, which the Philippines calls the Panganiban Reef, is 150 miles West of Palawan, the Philippines’ nearest land mass, and 620 miles South-East of China.

In 1995, China built initial structures on stilts while the Philippine Navy was not patrolling the area due to the monsoon season. The Philippine government immediately protested this action. However, the Chinese government rejected the protest and said that the structures were shelter for fishermen.

However, when the Mischief Reef dispute came to the fore that year, the US government merely reacted cautiously making clear its neutrality.

“In a more serious examination of the problems presented American policy makers in the South China Sea, Kaplan would have told the full story of Scarborough Shoal in 2012,” he said.

Standoff in 2012

Lohman was referring to the standoff between China and the Philippines which began on April 8, 2012 over the Philippine Navy apprehension of eight Chinese fishing vessels in the disputed Scarborough Shoal.

Since then, tensions have continued between the two countries.

Under a 2012 deal mediated by the US, China and the Philippines promised to withdraw their forces from the shoal until a deal over its ownership could be reached. The Philippines complied with the agreement and withdrew. China, however, did not abide the agreement and maintained its presence at the shoal, effectively militarizing it.

“What they learned in 2012 was that they cannot bank on America’s clout with (China),” said Lohman. “All observers—including Obama administration officials—tell the same story. The US leaned on the Philippines to remove their ships from Scarborough on the promise that it would demand the same of the Chinese. The Philippines did as asked; the Chinese—whether or not they were ever actually asked by the US—did not.”

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