Weak Asean, US response emboldens China

By Val G. Abelgas

ASEAN-flagsWith the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) reduced to a toothless tiger that could only urge “restraint” and express “serious concern” over developments in the region without even mentioning the name of China, we can now expect Asia’s bully to become even more assertive in its claim to nearly the entire South China Sea.

Even as China recklessly pulled an oilrig into an area in the Spratly islands also claimed by Vietnam, triggering a naval standoff between the two neighboring countries and further escalating tension in the region, all the ASEAN leaders could do was issue a toothless statement that China simply ignored.

The failure of the leaders of the 10-member aggrupation of Southeast Asian nations to come up with a stronger statement against China’s bullying tactics in the disputed sea has only confirmed ASEAN’s waning influence that has now emboldened the neighborhood toughie to assert its dominance over the region.

The weak and tentative stand by the United States on China’s aggressive behavior has not helped any and has instead led the hawks in Beijing’s leadership to believe that the Americans would not intervene in the dispute.

While the State Department and ranking US defense and military officials have repeatedly reassured allies that the US would come to their defense, Asian allies like Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam have yet to see a stronger response, such as sending warships to the area, that would show the Chinese bullies that America is seriously concerned about the situation.

The four-nation visit of US President Obama has not reassured its allies but has only led to more questions about America’s willingness to confront China, militarily if need be, if the latter elevates its assertiveness to a higher level.

A day before Obama started his Asian visit, the State Department had to clarify that the trip and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that was going to be signed with the Philippines prior to the US President’s arrival was not directed at China. The US seemed more concerned about appeasing China than reassuring its allies.

Both the Mutual Defense Treaty and the newly signed EDCA are silent about a possible creeping invasion of territories within the Philippines’ 200-mile economic zone that are also being claimed by China. While the two agreements ensure that the US would come to the defense of the Philippines in case of external attacks, American officials have always maintained that the US would not interfere in territorial disputes.

There is no assurance that if China decides to send troops to Ayungin Shoal, Recto Bank, Mabini Reef or any other island that are well within the country’s 200-mile economic zone that the Americans would help repulse such an invasion.

There is no definite answer as to when the Americans would finally come in as far as the disputed islands and reefs are concerned. The Chinese could very well finish building the airstrip on Mabini Reef, remove the Navy derelict Sierra Madre that houses a handful of Philippine Marines, pull another oil rig to oil-rich Recto Bank and station troops on the islands and we wouldn’t know if the Americans would even help us defend these territories.

“The Obama administration risks letting this spin out of control if it doesn’t display a muscular naval presence just to remind the Chinese that they don’t own the South China Sea, yet,” said John Tkacik, a former China expert in the US State Department.

“Washington really needs to dish out the same toughness that Beijing is throwing in its face,” he said. “President Obama has to remind China that it undertook a commitment in 2002 to avoid provocative behavior in the South China Sea, and explicitly condemn Beijing for fomenting a crisis.”

Tkacik was referring to the “Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which China signed in 2002 in Cambodia along with the ASEAN member countries. China and the other signatories resolved, among other things, to “undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.”

With the hawks in the Chinese Communist Party, led by Premier Xi Jin-ping, at the helm, the Chinese have obviously dumped the agreement and now act in the disputed sea according to their own rules.

They have become so emboldened that a top Chinese foreign official was quoted as saying that the US is avoiding a direct confrontation with China, noting what he called the reluctance of the US towards military involvement in Syria and Ukraine.

China is obviously testing whether the US would respond in terms of sending warships to the area rather than just by words. A weak response by the Americans to China’s provocative actions could further embolden the Chinese to do even more aggressive actions.

Obviously, China has no respect for, or has its own narrow interpretation of international laws and would refuse to participate or honor any ruling in the arbitration case filed by the Philippines before international courts. While the Philippine government is right in pursuing the case, it must also take actions to prepare for any eventuality that the rising tension in the disputed sea would flare up into a shooting war.

The countries that are being bullied by China – the Philippines, Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan and possibly Indonesia in the near future – cannot stand up to China alone. They have to rally the ASEAN to put up a stronger stand against China’s provocative actions and if ASEAN refuses, they should form their own alliance, hopefully with the help of the US and other nations, and stand up to the neighborhood toughie.


12 Responses. Have your say.

  1. “United we stand divided we fall”, should be the motto of the ASEAN. In short, all members of the ASEAN should fight in full against Chine. If not, surely, China can easily crush any member of the asean simply becuase China hsa both the manpower and armaments.
    If the US will not come to our aid, I strongly suggest that those senators/congressmen who voted against the US bases in the country as well as the makabayans/npas, the rebel groups should come in front to fight against China.

  2. Don Azarias says:

    Let’s face it. Like the author said, ASEAN is a toothless tiger and I agree. And with the wishy-washy military signal that the Obama administration is sending, it won’t be long for China and the ASEAN members to conclude that the United States is just a paper tiger.

  3. Mike Nazario says:

    It is not America’s responsibility to repel or stop China from doing what they are doing now i. sending oil rig, shooing away the other claimants to the islands also claimed by the other Asian countries;. It is the responsibility of these countries’ to defend their claim, even at the risk of starting a conflict with China. It might be too late if the weak country fires the first shot on China but that is when you can write this kind of article about America if if America fail to respond. America can not be the policeman of the world. I don’t want any of my sons and or my grandsons going to war because some gutless government do not have any pride to defend against a bully.

    • Don Azarias says:

      Mr. Nazario,

      Pardon me for asking you: “Are you a Filipino or a Filipino-American?” It’s sad that you don’t seem to realize that a powerful and bigger China is bullying its militarily weaker and smaller neighbors like the Philippines and Vietnam. So how can the Philippines defend itself against a country like China? Do you think China can do the same to India, Russia and the United States? I don’t think so.

      It’s not that the Philippines has a gutless government. Maybe you should refer to historical facts of how the Filipinos, armed with bolos and few rifles, fought a more powerful Spanish army and challenged an even more powerful and mighty American forces and gave their lives for the sake of freedom.

      Except for those so called ‘nationalist’ lawmakers responsible for closing the American air and naval bases, I believe a vast majority of Filipinos have guts but we just don’t have the muscles to help us defend the our country against an emerging Asian superpower like China.

      Don’t forget how the Filipino soldiers fought and died alongside the Americans during World War II and the Korean War. Don’t also forget those Filipino-American soldiers who died fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. And don’t forget the 1951 defense treaty the binds the the United States to defend the Philippines against foreign aggression. But I guess for someone with your kind of mentality it does not matter.

      And yes, with your kind of mentality you are someone who won’t allow your sons and grandsons to die for their country. But like a majority of the Filipino people, when our country comes calling for its sons and daughters to fight when invaders trample its sacred shores, I won’t hesitate to let my sons and grandsons to fight and die for their Motherland.

      Don Azarias

    • pat Talens says:

      Well said, Mike.

    • pat Talens says:

      Mike, I agree the United States, given its finite economic and military resources, can not be the freedom-loving fair minded Policeman of this complicated, convoluted world— of people with differing, conflicting philosophies, priorities, religions, and governments.

      In the Philippines, my take is that the Philippine govt and its military seem to want the United States its de facto shield and protector against China, when its thieving fat generals in the military and security apparatus, its corrupt politicians from barangay to national governments, and its pervasive culture of corruptions are themselves destroying the country.

      I don’t mind coming off retirement and reverting to active duty in the United States Navy in aid of the Philippines against China, when I see Filipinos, in real patriotism, are fighting with all their guts even with weakened might.

      But are there remaining Filipino heroes nowadays???

      • Don Azarias says:


        Why think of and dwell on those corrupt politicians and thieving fat generals in the Philippines. It’s perfectly clear that there’s nothing we can do about their outrageous conduct. Our love for the Motherland must always be first and foremost. It must always be unconditional love. It must not be based on the premise that, because our political and military leaders are corrupt to the core, we must turn our backs on our Motherland.

        It’s true that the United States should not act as policeman or enforcer to make this world a peaceful place to live. But to which country should that responsibility be lodged?Think of how the world would be like if there is no United States of America and countries like Russia, China, North Korea and Iran are the powers that be.

        Compared to other countries, the Philippines was a former U.S. colony. The Filipino soldiers fought and died alongside the Americans during World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Gulf War and in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, Filipino soldiers were the ones who died alongside the Americans, not the Arabs, not the Afghans, not the Egyptians, not the Pakistanis, not the Indians, not the Iranians, not the Japanese, not the Chinese and not the Russians.

        So tell me if the Philippines, as a small and militarily weak nation and a faithful ally of the United States, is being unreasonable to look up to the United States for help in defending itself against China, an emerging superpower in Asia, because its political and military leaders are corrupt.

        I think not.

        Don Azarias

        • pat talens says:

          Don, I will be remiss if I fail to respond to your post—for me, a very revealing post about yourself.

          Kudo’s to you for your admirable retort that we should render “first and foremost unconditional love” for the mother Philippines. I was amazed further by your willingness—come what may, and inspite of the corrupt leaders and politicians who are running the country and causing havoc and pain to the citizenry, you profess willingness to let your sons and grandsons to fight and die for the motherland.

          If indeed your given words are not fallacious statements nor are they only rethorical remarks, but rather are utterances coming from your heart, then my utmost admiration to you. You are a gem in a landscape of rocks and clay; you are a rarity in this universe of men; in your guts and emotions, you must be a true Filipino patriot the Philippines needs to discover and become a part of its cure.

          Unconditional love to the country and willingness to sacrifice lives of beloved sons and grandsons for the motherland are words unheard of by me for long, long time.
          My friend, you are one special one who should be in corridors of political power in the Philippines, who will be a true advocate for good by the Filipinos—for you speak well as a true Filipino patriot.

      • pat talens says:

        I’ll make a guess where these remaining Filipino heroes could be. They might be in foreign lands, so distant away from the Philippines, who sustain the Philippine economy by their hard-earned remittances; they might be in the Middle East as domestic helpers, many of whom are beaten and tortured by cruel domestic employers, just so they could send financial support to their poor families at home; and may be they are in bully China itself, where they work as servants and entertainers to the Communists, or are in China’s jails for being caught smuggling drugs in which payments from it were to provide for their families in the blighted areas of the Philippines, especially in areas stricken by disasters but continue to remain unrehabilitated due to criminal mismanagement of reliefs and monetary donations by the government.

        Otherwise, I find it hard to find real Filipino heroes nowadays. Pacquiao, may be, for giving pride to the Filipinos as a phenomenal living boxer.

        I am stunned that the Philippine Mil Academy, a supposed bastion and breeding ground of military heroes and once a place where I prided myself as one simple cadet in its Cadet Corps, has not measured up to its own high expectations and patriotic idealism. I still dream for a day when one of its product officers will live and be ready to die for its lasting slogans of country, loyalty, and integrity—inspite of powerful, destructive political influences that unduly influence promotions and climb to military power.

        Indeed, I was steeply disappointed by once promising Gregorio Honasan. But may he awaken and become once again that military patriot he was once—for the sake of the country that is befalling deeper in the abyss. He must remember redemption is not always late, but always later.

        • pat Talens says:

          Yes I dream for a day when a PMA product officer will become the President or the potentate of the Philippines.

  4. Manolo Binotapa says:

    I’d rather not, it would further incense those in disagreement and there is no point for me to do so. , thanks , but no thanks.

  5. Mac Flores, Jr. says:

    A defense agreement is simply to protect and help a party in need and or to help each other against a common enemy.

    I trust the PHL military and foreign affair authorities will develop a ready action plan in case of an inevitable war happen.

    First scenario: To fight alone the enemy.

    Second scenario: To fight the enemy, in alliance with friendly Asian countries.

    Third scenario: To fight the enemy with friendly Asian countries and others.

    Palagay ko naman meron ng action plan ang PHL by this time. Kung wala pa, masasabi ko’ng inutil ang kasalukuyang Administration.

    If I remember right, Marshal Bismarck of Prussia (the founding father of Germany) told his General Staff Command, something like this: “If I am asleep when war erupts, don’t wake me up. The detailed action plan we know is inside my drawer”.

Join the discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *