The price to pay for peace

By Perry Diaz

Kalayaan-Group-of-IslandsEver since the United States and the Philippines signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) last April 28, 2014, a lot of Filipinos have been asking: Will the U.S. defend the Ayungin Reef against Chinese invasion? I wish this could be answered with a simple “yes” or “no,” preferably a “yes.” But given the complex and complicated situation that exists between China and her neighbors – particularly Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam — the answer could be as choppy as the waves of the South China Sea.

First of all, let’s look at EDCA itself. Here’s what Wikipedia says about it: “The EDCA seeks to bolster the U.S. – Philippines security relationship by allowing the United States to station troops and operations on Philippine territory. However, the Agreement clearly states that the U.S. is not allowed to establish a permanent base. The Agreement also stipulates that the U.S. is not allowed to store or position any nuclear weapons on Philippine territory.”

With EDCA’s restrictive provisions on the rotational deployment of U.S. forces to Philippine military bases, the U.S. might not have enough leeway to mobilize her forces should the Chinese invade Ayungin or any of the other islands, reefs, and shoals that comprise the Kalayaan group of islands in the Spratly archipelago, which the Philippines claimed for two reasons: (1) They are within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ); and (2) They are part of the Philippines’ continental shelf. These are good enough reasons to clear any ambiguity on the ownership of the Kalayaan islands; therefore, the U.S.-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), which obligates the U.S. to come to the aid of the Philippines if her territory was invaded, should defend them if attacked.

But according to legal experts, the MDT does not cover the Kalayaan islands because they were not Philippine territory yet at the time the MDT was signed in 1951. This ambiguous interpretation of the MDT doesn’t dwell too well with a large majority of Filipinos who favor the return of the American bases. However, a small motley group of nationalists, activists, leftists, and communists are against the MDT, EDCA, Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), and any other form of U.S.-Philippine bilateral arrangements. They had vehemently opposed the return of the U.S. bases ever since the Philippine Senate voted against the renewal of the U.S. bases agreement in 1991.

Pivot to Singapore

Strait of Malacca

Strait of Malacca

It is interesting to note that long before the Philippine Senate voted not to renew the U.S. bases agreement; the U.S. was already looking for a place to move the 7th Fleet in the event the Subic Naval Base would close.

Strait-of-Malacca-mapIn the book, “Rebalancing U.S. Forces, Basing and Forward Presence in the Asia-Pacific” published recently, it mentioned the development of the U.S.-Singaporean strategic relationship in 1989 when Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew invited the U.S. forces to use Singaporean facilities. In 1990, they signed a “Memorandum of Understanding Regarding United States Use of Facilities in Singapore.” “[It] became the most formal of the arrangements negotiated with a number of Southeast Asian states as the U.S. Department of Defense shifted its ‘post-Philippines’ focus from permanent bases to access agreements, with the express intent of maintaining the ability of U.S. forces to ‘deploy quickly to any location within the region and to sustain that deployment as long as necessary’,” the book said. In January 1992, the U.S. and Singapore agreed, under the existing MoU, to move the Commander, Logistics Group Western Pacific (COMLOG WESTPAC) from Subic Bay to Singapore.

Changi Naval Base

Changi Naval Base

In 1998, Singapore began construction of a $60-million naval base at Changi, at her expense; to facilitate the deployment of the U.S. 7th Fleet to Southeast Asian waters, including aircraft carriers and submarines. Completed in 2001, Changi’s strategic location at the mouth of the narrow channel at the southern end of the Strait of Malacca provides the U.S. Navy with a vantage point for which to monitor and control, if necessary, one of the busiest – if not the busiest — maritime routes in the world. It connects the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea, which China uses to transport 80% of her foreign oil imports from the Middle East and Africa.

In 2005, the U.S. and Singapore strengthened their relationship by signing a “Strategic Framework Agreement,” which recognized Singapore’s status as a “major security cooperation partner.” “Singapore’s partnership with the U.S.,” the book said, “had exceeded in strategic significance America’s long-standing alliance relationships with the Philippines and Thailand.” And given the political situations in these two countries today, a stable and friendly Singapore would play a pivotal role in maintaining the freedom of navigation in the South and East China Seas.

U.S. gambit

First-and-Second-Island-Chains.3Evidently, the U.S. had long been preparing for eventually leaving the Philippines. With a rebalancing plan that doesn’t include the Philippines, a Chinese threat to the Philippines’ sovereignty doesn’t seem to play a crucial role in moving 60% of America’s naval and air assets to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region by 2020. In other words, the U.S. could sacrifice a few reefs, rocks, and shoals in the South China Sea and still maintain a strategic advantage over China.

With the establishment of a string of military bases in Guam, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Singapore, Diego Garcia, and Central Asia encircling China, the U.S. might just succeed in containing a rising China; thus, preventing her from breaking out of the First Island Chain into the vast Pacific Ocean and pose a threat to the hub of the U.S.’s western defense line — Hawaii. Clearly, the U.S. wouldn’t expose herself to potential enemy penetration for the second time in history. She learned her lesson when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. But history has an uncanny way of repeating itself. Watch out!

Shades of Munich

Obama-Xi summit meeting

Obama-Xi summit meeting

During the summit meeting of U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in California in June 2013, Xi told the media that he and Obama were meeting “to chart the future of China-US relations and draw a blueprint for this relationship.” And to make his point crystal clear, he said: “The vast Pacific Ocean has enough space for two large countries like the United States and China.”

The question is: Is the U.S. willing to concede the South China Sea to China so the U.S. could remain the hegemonic power in the Pacific? Under the present circumstances, this just might be America’s only viable option to avoid going to war with China, which begs the question: Is it too high a price to pay for peace? Or, to be more circumspect, is it the easy way out to appease China?


One Response. Have your say.

  1. mrsbethgonzales says:

    A very stiff price for phl to pay forever if US appease the dragon. A whole of this islands chain sacrificed virtually maket the asean and east asia as the footstool of china.

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