No, the question is, will the U.S. be there for the Philippines?
I read a comment the other day that probably echoes the sentiment of many Filipinos. The writer said: "The U.S. is only out for its own interest". The point was that Filipinos can't depend on the U.S.
Excuse me, but that is about the most ridiculous comment I've ever heard.
Whose interest, exactly, should the U.S. put ahead of its own?
- Philippine interests?
- Russian interests?
- Chinese interests?
That's the purpose of a nation. To put its own interests, and the interests of its citizens, first. To expect the U.S. to take care of the Philippines is that beggar mentality I was referring to the other day. Out of the graciousness of their hearts, Americans are supposed to pony up dollars and blood for their happy-go-lucky Filipino compadres? Why? Because of guilt that America was racist in 1898 and needs to do a make-good? Because the poor woeful Philippines needs it? Word association linkages: needs, needy, whiney, beggar, turnoff.
I will not bother to itemize ways the Philippines has not acted in U.S. interests. You know them. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The Philippines is entitled to sail its own ship.
But I rather think that now is a good time to step up, toss off the cloak of neediness in favor of a cloak of confidence, and recognize the U.S. is entitled to have interests of its own that may differ from Philippine interests and not blame Americans for every little pimple that appears on the Filipino national nose.
"Okay, okay, Joe. Calm down, man. Put your patriotic passion back in its backpack and reason with us."
Yeah, yeah, okay.
If we use "U.S. national interest" as the fundamental guiding principle here, maybe we can figure out if the U.S. would back the Philippines. Let's do a quick scan of what we see:
- China is aggressively seeking to acquire minerals around the world to support its massive manufacturing and wealth-building machine. It is doing this legally and forcefully, forcefully because China can act as a nation rather than a collection of corporate entities, like the U.S. China can subsidize and undercut any bidding from competitors.
- The Spratleys and Scarborough Shoal are of high interest to China. They are "free" for the taking.
- The trillions of dollars of "investments" China has made in the U.S. by buying U.S. debt is a two-edged sword. China can "play" the U.S. financial markets, and wreak havoc, but, at the end of the day, the value of its investment is only as good as U.S. financial strength. So China wants U.S. economic stability, because it supports Chinese stability. This is a starkly clear statement that China favors stability over disruption. Shooting at one another is extreme disruption.
- Is China right now strong enough to force military confrontation with the U.S.? No. Not yet. China loses more than it gains in military confrontation with the U.S. China loses the platform supporting its own wealth-building and strength-building.
- Here's another signal. A disturbing one. China's drive to get to outer space has a strong military drive behind it. This is a nation that has not progressed to believe that China is better off in a cooperative global community. China has one foot in Maoist military arrogance and one foot in progressive capitalist ideas.
- China's leadership is not unified. There are progressives and there are tyrants. China is pushing the edges right now because the current leadership is aggressive. But it is difficult to see how China would gain from a shooting conflict .
- Chinese leaders are talented at leveraging ethnic Chinese pride and nationalism into a love/hate frenzy. It can spin to anger quickly and even reset what leaders do. There is a cultural emotionalism to China that makes a wrong play dangerous.
- Perhaps China is pushing hard to claim the seas to establish a negotiating position against the U.S. It will give up the Spratleys and Scarborough for . . . what? U.S. pullback from Asia? Backing off from criticizing China's monetary policy? Something else significant?
The Number One U.S. interest is to encourage China to develop respect for other nations and to become a cooperative and peaceful partner, even a leader, in the world community. But China is like an unruly pupil, a bully, wanting to dominate other nations. The military expansion being undertaken by China is almost warlike, never mind the rationalizations that China throws out. It is intense.
Furthermore, not only is China pushing into Asia, but China is also pushing into South America. The U.S. shudders to imagine a South America that is under China's influence as much as Asia is under U.S. influence. Consider strong U.S. commerce and/or military ties and influences in Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and the Philippines. The U.S. can imagine a Chinese naval base in Venezuela, an Army base in Argentina.
How and where can China learn respect for other nations? Where is there a good place to put a halt to Chinese unilateral expansionism? To draw some lines, to put some limits on the bully? To work on diplomacy before the shooting, and not after. To continue to encourage China to join the global community of nations rather than stand apart.
Right here, right now, off the shores of the Philippines. And Viet Nam. And Taiwan. And Japan.
The Number Two U.S. Interest is to honor its contract to defend the Philippines. This does NOT mean the U.S. will act as the Philippine military proxy and put its warships into the Spratleys to chase out Chinese intruders. But it means the U.S. will talk the Philippines up as a nation warranting China's respect. And the U.S. will apply diplomatic pressure to keep China from being rash. And, should shooting start at China's initiative, the U.S. will shoot back.
A person can go nuts trying to draw alternative scenarios as to what can happen.
- If the Philippines forces a military confrontation, say by trying to stop the Chinese coral raids going on now off Palawan, there will be a military face off. The U.S. will likely play it soft, diplomatically, to get both contestants back into their respective corners. Chinese expansion will stop. That's good for the U.S. and Philippines.
- If China shoots at Philippine boats, military or civilian, the U.S. is likely to move its own ships behind Philippine ships. China will stand down. That's good for the U.S. and Philippines.
- If the Philippines starts drilling on islands or in areas China claims, China will forcefully put a stop to it. The U.S. will enter the fray (diplomatically) to calm both sides. The drilling will stop. Chinese expansion will stop. It's a good result for the U.S. but not the Philippines.
- If China starts drilling on islands or in areas the Philippines claims and the Philippines takes action to stop it, the U.S. will add its voice to get the drilling stopped and the parties separated. The result is of benefit to the U.S. and the Philippines.
- If the Philippines does nothing, it will lose its rightful territory and resources because the U.S. has no cause to act. Chinese expansion will continue. It's bad plan for the Philippines. I would think even the U.S. would not like that plan.
It is hard to see how the Philippines can gain much because in the stopping of China (the primary U.S. interest), Philippine oil drilling also stops, at least for a time. However, the Philippines clearly LOSES if it does nothing and allows China to push out. And so does the U.S.
The U.S. will urge Asean to push forward on a code of conduct to allow open seas, ensure demilitarization of disputed zones, and promote negotiated settlements on commercial development.
China will not accept the U.N. maritime rules put forward by the Philippines. The Philippines can try to secure U.N. endorsement of its 200 NM territorial boundaries without Chinese agreement, which at least isolates China. However, the U.N. is unlikely to rule on such a matter because of China's resistance.
China is pushing. The U.S. is tap dancing until after the presidential election and developing strategy. The Philippines is fretting.
I personally believe it behooves the Philippines to act firmly. But that it is best to withhold from direct confrontation of China until after the U.S. presidential election.
The fundamental guideline is to imagine the seas within 200 NM as land. Would the Philippines allow China to put military troops on its shores?
If Chinese military ships entered the picture, my message to China would be clear: you are using force to occupy Philippine territory and we will use every means at our disposal to get your fighting ships out of Philippine seas. Use the "occupation" word liberally. It is about as offensive as you can get without firing a gun.
And I'd stop Chinese fishermen from ripping up the coral. That is extraordinarily offensive and the entire civilized world would back the Philippines on that. Replicate the stand-off over Scarborough Shoals but don't allow the affront to continue.
In other words, the Philippines should push back.
U.S. and Philippine interests are fundamentally the same. Both lose if Chinese aggressive expansion is not stopped.
Roles: China = crook, Philippines = bad cop, U.S. = good cop.
The only way the Philippines could be the good cop would be if it slipped back into a beggar role that asks America to represent its military interests. The U.S. won't do that because it would cross with their number one aim, to bring China into the global community of nations as a cooperative participant.
The Philippines must stand tall. No choice. It can play its bad cop role better if it upgrades its military tools. You know, learns to swear and knock the crook upside the head.
Mr. Aquino is doing fine as far as I can tell. I'd only suggest he use the "occupation" word so that the Chinese understand how offensive their military incursions are.