The Obama aftermath: Containing China

By Elfren S. Cruz
The Philippine Star 

U.S. President Obama meets with Philippine's President Aquino inside Malacanang presidential palace in ManilaObama has come and gone. Now, in the worlds of media, academe and politics, is the time for analyzing and articulating the effects of the visit to Philippine interests. What exactly was the message that Obama was sending during his four-nation Asian tour? And what does the American “pivot to Asia” mean to China — the rising superpower in our neighborhood?

The first message of Obama was obviously that the United States has no intention and do not want to build a base in the Philippines. This may seem difficult to believe to sectors who have thrived on the old theme that equates nationalism with anti-Americanism.

Since 2008, the American policy has clearly been military retrenchment all over the world. They have withdrawn their forces from Iraq and are planning to withdraw from Afghanistan. They have refused to intervene in the genocide going on in Syria. In fact, it is the American top commanders who have advised the White House of the futility and cost of American human lives in a military intervention.

There are two major reasons for this policy of retrenchment. First, is the obvious failure of military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan where the level of violence has increased and Islamist forces, like the Taliban, have not been eradicated.

The second reason is that economic recession has forced a reduction in the American budget. The Obama government has reduced its defense budget and closed bases in the United States. It would create a domestic political problem for Obama if he opens a foreign base while closing bases in the United States and withdrawing from Afghanistan.

The second message is one that has to be read “between the lines” in Obama’s speeches. Several times he reiterated that the United States was not interested in implementing a policy of containment . This policy means trying to limit the expansion of power of another country. However, all his other messages indicate that the United States wants to “contain” China. This is where Philippine and USA interests coincide.

It is clear that China is a country that will reach superpower status someday. And it is also clear that like other superpowers such as the United States and Russia, China will attempt to dominate its immediate region. This, of course, means trying to dominate neighboring countries.

This is an unfortunate reality of all superpowers. The United States has done it in the Western Hemisphere. Russia has done it in recent times. First it invaded Georgia and then annexed Crimea. Now it wants to control Eastern Ukraine.

No country, since the beginning of mankind’s history, has risen to superpower status peacefully. This will cause potential conflicts between China and its neighbors — Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Vietnam and India.

The United States, as the other superpower, will try to contain China. It has three choices. It can wage war against China, slow down the economic growth of China, or build a coalition of allies that will prevent the expansion of the military and naval influence of China.

China is not Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. It is a nuclear power and has a very large military machinery. Therefore, the United States will not be able to launch a preventive war against China.

It will be very difficult to slow down the economic growth of China. Besides, an economically healthy China will benefit the American economy. That leaves the third option.

Ever since Admiral Dewey and his fleet defeated the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay in 1898, the United States has been the sole superpower in the Pacific Ocean. Japan tried to contest their power by a pre-emptive attack at Pearl Harbor in 1946. However, after the Second World War, America again became the sole Pacific power and the Pacific Ocean became an American lake.

Centuries ago, the Mongols became superpowers by invading Europe by crossing the Russian heartland. But China cannot follow this example since Russia will be able to defend itself against any invasion. If China wants to become a world superpower, its only other recourse is to go in the other direction. This means that China will try to become a Pacific power or, at the very least, share power in the Pacific Ocean with the United States.

One major obstacle to China’s ultimate ambition to become a Pacific power is that it does not have guaranteed and secure access to the Pacific Ocean. Her access is blocked by three island nations – Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines.

The United States will react if China attempts to dominate Asia. Also, the US will never tolerate competition for power in the Pacific Ocean, especially since the American West Coast (California, Oregon, Washington) and Hawaii have the Pacific Ocean as their border.

During the Cold War, the United States and the Western European nations were able to “contain” Russian expansion by organizing a coalition of countries facing possible Russian invasion or territorial annexation. This coalition was the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO. We can expect the United and Japan and possibly India to lead in the eventual organization of a similar organization to prevent further Chinese expansion.

Russia’s answer to NATO was the Warsaw Pact, an alliance of Eastern European countries. China will most probably form a similar alliance to counteract the U.S.A and Japan-led organization.

No country will be able to remain neutral. The Philippines will have to decide which alliance to join. Presently, because of territorial disputes with China, it is clear that the Philippines will join the US-led coalition.

We can only hope that this balancing of forces in Asia will force all nations to seek for resolution of disputes through negotiations and not through wars.

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