After taking naval control over Scarborough Shoal, China is now ratcheting up its efforts to secure other disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea. According to China’s state media, a “counterstrike” will be launched against Philippine forces if the Philippine government does not stand down on its provocative activities in the area.
The Philippines has long relied on the United States for military defense. The Philippines’ military capability and state of military preparedness had progressively degenerated since the country gained its independence from the United States in 1946. The country’s vulnerability to external threats was also exacerbated by a shortsighted 1991 decision to not renew the US’s lease on huge military bases it built all over the country.
The overseas edition of the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, said in a front-page commentary that the Philippines had committed “seven sins” in the South China Sea.
These include the “illegal occupation” of the Spratly Islands, inviting foreign capital to engage in oil and gas development in the disputed waters and promoting the “internationalization” of the waters, said the commentary.
The Philippines has called on the United States to act as a “patron”, while ASEAN has become an “accomplice,” said the commentary, which does not amount to official policy but can reflect the government’s thinking.
“The Philippines, knowing that it’s weak, believes that ‘a crying child will have milk to drink’,” the People’s Daily said, accusing Manila of resorting to many “unscrupulous” tricks in the disputed waters.
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The US naval base in Subic Bay at its peak was capable of supporting 9,000 military personnel and was home to the US Navy Seventh Fleet back in the good ‘ol days. Furthermore, the US military presence there and in other parts of the Philippines contributed at least $1 billion to the national economy per annum. The Philippines also sits smack within vital sea lanes that serve most of East Asia, specifically the Straits of Malacca which is one of the world’s busiest and most important shipping lanes.
Since its withdrawal from the Philippines in 1991, US interest in Philippine affairs and wherewithal to honour its commitments under existing defense treaties has wavered. Still, it is in everyone’s interest to develop strategies to contain China. The Philippines remains important to the US because it is located near the Straits of Malacca, is within missile and airstrike shot of one notably belligerent Korean regime, and is a more convenient staging platform for any sort of strategic “deterrence” position America aspires to taking in the next several years to balance military power in a region surrounded by the emerging might of China and India.
As if sniffing lack of unity and confusion within the ranks of its opponents, China is escalating the assertiveness with which it expresses its adamant position on the matter…
On Thursday, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned that countries with territorial claims in the South China Sea that look for help from third parties will find their efforts “futile”, adding that the path of confrontation would be “doomed”.
To the question of whether the Philippines should turn its back on the “emancipation from its colonial past” that was supposedly “achieved” in 1991 when its government kicked the Americans out of its military bases, the answer is becoming obvious. Notwithstanding the imminent threat from China, the premise of this “emancipation” card in the debate over allowing the US to deploy troops on Philippine soil again becomes clearly flawed when framed by the question of whether or not the Philippines has ever been truly independent to begin with — before or after 1991.
[Photo courtesy China People’s Daily.]
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.