May 2015

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Texas-hold-emThe most popular variation of poker today is called “Texas hold ‘em.” Whoever shows the best hand wins the game, except where players fold their hands. “Texas hold ‘em” is not a game of chance or luck, it’s a game of strategy – and deception — where a player’s goal is to turn a weak and losing hand into a winner.

Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu

The beauty of this game is that it can be used in any situation including politics, business, and geopolitics. Indeed, its strategic orientation is akin to Sun Tzu’s “Art of War,” which Chinese military strategists have been using for the past 2,500 years.

Today, what we’re seeing in the Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea is the real-life geopolitical variation of “Texas hold ‘em.” Let’s call it, “Spratly hold ‘em.”

Unsinkable aircraft carrier

Imagery shows ongoing construction at Fiery Cross Reef. The runway, approximately 3,000 metres long, will be able to handle all Chinese military aircraft when completed. (Distribution Airbus DS / IHS)

Imagery shows ongoing construction at Fiery Cross Reef. The runway, approximately 3,000 metres long, will be able to handle all Chinese military aircraft when completed. (Distribution Airbus DS / IHS)

About two years ago, China started building artificial islands in seven coral reefs in the Spratly archipelago. Using huge dredging equipment, sand and rocks were scooped up and dumped on the coral reefs to form artificial islands. One of these “islands” – Fiery Cross Reef – which is 1,400 miles from China’s coast and only less than 200 miles from the Philippines’ Palawan Island, is turning out to be a military outpost consisting of a long runway and deep harbor to accommodate China’s most advanced aircraft and warships. Some observers call it an “unsinkable aircraft carrier.”

A few days ago, China broke ground for the construction of two “multi-functional lighthouses” on two reclaimed reefs. To date, China has reclaimed about 2,000 acres, the equivalent of 1,500 football fields. And when the work is completed, China would become the dominant superpower in the Asia-Pacific region where she can project power all the way to the Second Island Chain.

With China claiming sovereignty over 90% of the South China Sea, she would be in a position to control the trade lanes in the Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca where 17 million and 15.2 million barrels of oil pass through, respectively, each day. About 80% of China’s foreign oil travels the strait. The region generates more than $5 trillion a year in trade.

Malacca dilemma

Trade routes

Trade routes

Should hostility erupt between U.S. and China, all the U.S. had to do to defeat China was to block the Straits of Hormuz and Malacca, which would stop oil from reaching China. It wouldn’t take long before China drained her strategic oil reserves and her economic and military engines would then come to a screeching halt. Kaput!

Needless to say, China’s leaders know their weakness. And it would be foolhardy for China to do nothing to fix the problem. Since going to war against the U.S. is not a winnable option, China’s solution to her “Malacca dilemma” is to remove her dependence on the Strait of Malacca to transport her oil home. But how?

China had several plans to bypass the Strait of Malacca including building pipelines from Russia, Pakistan, and Myanmar. The China-Myanmar pipeline is the only one that is operational today; however, its transmission capacity is only 22 million tons per year. The Russian and Pakistan pipelines have yet to be built.

A canal has been proposed to be built across the Kra Isthmus in Thailand, which China could use to transport oil; thus, avoiding the Strait of Malacca. But the Kra canal project is still in its conceptual stage and would take at least 10 years to build.

So the next best thing for China to do is claim the oil-rich South China Sea. If she succeeds in doing that, her dependence on Middle East oil would drastically be reduced… or, perhaps, eliminated. She’d have most of the oil she needs right in her own “backyard.”

World War III

A U.S. Navy crewman aboard P-8A plane points to Chinese reclamation work on Fiery Cross Reef.

A U.S. Navy crewman aboard P-8A plane points to Chinese reclamation work on Fiery Cross Reef.

Recently, the U.S., alarmed by the massive Chinese military build-up in the Spratlys, sent a P-8A Poseidon surveillance plane over the artificial islands. China immediately denounced it. The Global Times, a tabloid owned by the People’s Daily, the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper, said that “China is a major world power with nuclear weapons” and warned the U.S. that World War III is inevitable if the U.S. persisted in meddling in China’s right to do anything within her territory. U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who was on an important trip to the Asia-Pacific region, warned China: “There should be no mistake: The United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, as we do all around the world.”

Last May 28, it was reported that China had deployed weapons to the artificial islands. Yep, China had just upped the ante by militarizing the reclaimed islands. The U.S. could call the bet, raise it or fold her hand.

While the U.S. wouldn’t resort – not at this time — to armed attack against the Chinese forces on the reclaimed islands, she can continue flying surveillance planes over the islands and send warships to within 12 miles of the islands, which she had implied earlier.

Boomers

U.S. Seventh Fleet.

U.S. Seventh Fleet.

How China is going to react to such incursion is anybody’s guess. But for sure China would lose face if she doesn’t repel the “invading” Americans. And “losing face” is a big thing in Oriental cultures, which leaves China with only one option – attack the “invading” Americans. But how can China fight the U.S. Seventh Fleet, which has around 60 warships, 350 aircraft, 38,000 naval personnel, and 22,000 marines deployed to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region?

Ballistic missile submarine (Boomer).

Ballistic missile submarine (Boomer).

But the U.S. Navy’s ace in the hole is her fleet of 14 nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). Known as “boomers,” each submarine carries 14 multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs). Each MIRV is a ballistic missile payload containing 24 nuclear warheads, each of which is capable of being aimed independently to hit a target. With 336 individual warheads in each “boomer,” they add up to a total of four megatons – the equivalent of more than 2,500 Hiroshima atomic bombs. At least four SSBNs (the actual number is classified) are on “red alert” 24/7, which means that they can fire their MIRVs when ordered by the Commander-in-Chief.

On the other hand, China’s offshore combat capabilities are limited. She has one aircraft carrier, which has yet to be operational. At this time, China has about 100 land-based DF-5 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), which are capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads. They have a range of 8,000 miles. The only problem with the liquid-fueled DF-5 missiles is that it will take at least two hours to fire them, which means that the MIRVs from the American “boomers” could wipe them out before they’re launched.

Nuclear-War.9In a nuclear war, a second-strike capability is a country’s nuclear deterrence from a first-strike attack. And the key to nuclear deterrence is to make sure that your enemy knows that you could survive a first-strike attack and have the ability to retaliate with a devastating second-strike counter-attack, which begs the question: Is China bluffing and pretending that she has the means to destroy the U.S. in a first-strike attack?

In poker, the number one rule is: “Bluff only if you have the best hand.” That’s true in a game of “Texas hold ‘em.” It should also be true in “Spratly hold ‘em.”

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

President Aquino swears in Senator Grace Poe upon her election to the Senate.

President Aquino swears in Senator Grace Poe upon her election to the Senate.

Some people call someone who is in the right place at the right time, lucky. Some say it’s destiny. Grace Poe, who was elected to the Senate in 2013 with the most votes in a crowded pack, must either be lucky or destined to be a senator.

A survey taken by Social Weather Stations (SWS) last March showed Sen. Poe in a statistical tie with Vice President Jejomar “Jojo” Binay in popularity. For the first time, Binay’s popularity rating went down by 1% to 36% while Grace’s popularity rating shot up from 21% to 31%! But with the bombshell that the Court of Appeals (CA) dropped on Binay last May 11 freezing 242 bank accounts and insurance policies belonging to him, his family, and alleged “dummies,” Binay would have difficulty convincing his supporters to stay with him.

Speculation is rife that Binay would eventually drop out of the race. With two plunder complaints filed against him and his son Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr. before the Office of the Ombudsman, it’s just a matter of time – as early as June? – before the plunder charges are filed with the graft court Sandiganbayan. And at that time, the Sandiganbayan would issue arrest warrants against them. The plunder cases are in connection with the alleged overpricing in the construction of the Makati City Hall parking building and the Makati Science High School building amounting to P1.2 billion and P1.33 billion, respectively. And because plunder is a non-bailable offense, they’d be put in detention.

Crowded field

Presidentiables in 2016.

Presidentiables in 2016.

Although Binay could still run for office while his plunder cases are pending, he would not be allowed to leave detention to campaign. But whether he will run or not, Grace would have a good chance of winning the presidential race. However, if Binay dropped out, the number of presidential wannabes would dramatically increase, which would be numerically advantageous to Grace. In a crowded field of seven or more candidates, all Grace needs to win is 25% of the vote, with the other 75% spread among the other candidates.

With only one election to her credit — a senatorial run in 2013 — Grace would need an organization to make sure that she’d retain the support of those who voted for her in 2013. She may also be the benefactor of the “command vote” of her father, the late Fernando Poe Jr. (FPJ), who ran for president in 2004 against then incumbent president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo but lost the election due to massive electoral fraud. With the support of the loyal admirers of FPJ, it would provide Grace with the boost she needs to carry her over the top.

Maturity

Grace Poe (right) with, left to right, Ballsy Aquino Cruz, Cory Aquino, and Susan Roces.

Grace Poe (right) with, left to right, Ballsy Aquino Cruz, Cory Aquino, and Susan Roces.

But what seems to be the difference in next year’s presidential derby is that for the second time since the country’s independence, there is a female candidate who doesn’t fit the mold of the “trapo” — traditional politician – that plays realpolitik at the expense of the public good.

In the two years that Grace has been a senator, she has shown the maturity of a responsible public servant. Her singular effort to press for the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, which President Aquino refused to include in his legislative agenda and certify as “urgent,” speaks highly of her dedication to the mandate entrusted to her by the electorate.

It’s interesting to note that with her personal advocacy for the FOI bill, it easily passed the Senate. However, it’s not moving in the House of Representatives because the President’s allies wouldn’t pass it without the President’s endorsement.

Cheap shots

Happier days: Grace gives Binay a beso-beso.

Happier days: Grace gives Binay a beso-beso.

Grace’s critics – including Binay — were saying that she is not ready for the presidency. The other day, Binay took a cheap shot at Poe, saying: “It is dangerous to pass the leadership of the country to leaders who lack experience and competence as it would aggravate the problems currently being experienced by the country.” But Mr. Vice President isn’t it true that the biggest problem in the country today is corruption?

In response to Binay’s attack, Poe said, “More than experience and competence, what the country needs is an honest leader.” And this hit a sore spot in Binay because he and his family members are currently being investigated by the Ombudsman for allegations of corruption. Grace urged Binay to face the Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee and answer these allegations. And when she was asked if she thinks Binay did not possess the quality of an “honest leader,” she said that Binay has yet to explain the corruption allegations.

Grace Poe and mother Susan Roces show picture and posthumous National Artist Award to FPJ.

Grace Poe and mother Susan Roces show picture and posthumous National Artist Award to FPJ.

But for a San Francisco-based Filipino-American group, Grace’s qualifications for the presidency are questionable. The group even questioned her qualification as chairman of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) to which President Aquino appointed her. Heck, Grace’s parents – FPJ and Susan Roces – were rock stars in movieland! Isn’t that good enough?

Dual citizenship

Photocopies of Grace's US and Philippine passports.

Photocopies of Grace’s US and Philippine passports.

The group even claimed that Grace is a U.S. citizen. True. But what they forgot – or choose to forget – is that Grace is a dual citizen just like most of them. And since these were the same people who advocated – and worked — for the passage of Republic Act 9225 or the Citizenship Retention and Reacquisition Act, they know that a “dual citizen” could run for office in the Philippines. Yes, a dual citizen is as “first-class citizen” as Jojo Binay.

But the difference between Grace and Jojo is that Grace is not tainted with allegations of corruption while Jojo refuses to disclose how he accumulated his “unexplained wealth,” which by Philippine law makes him guilty of corruption.

Indeed, it comes down to honesty vs. greed. And which one would you like to lead the 100 million Filipinos: an honest and unseasoned person or a greedy and skilled person? Here’s a hint: an inexperienced person can learn to become competent while a greedy and corrupt person will never be honest and an honest person will never be corrupt.

Grace-Poe.7With all the brouhaha about Grace’s qualifications for president, Grace has yet to declare whether to run or not. However, there are subtle signs that she is going to run. The fact that she made it known that she’s not interested in the vice presidency narrows down her plans for 2016. It’s either she is going to run for president or finish her term in the Senate through 2019. And what’s in store for her in 2019? Run for reelection or retire. But that would be a waste of her talents. Like they say, strike while the iron is hot. Yes, it’s now or never, and Grace is aware of that.

At the end of the day, Grace knows she’s ready to lead her country. But the question is: Is the country ready for Grace?

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Happier days:  Binay and Cory Aquino

Happier days: Binay and Cory Aquino

Twenty-nine years after he rode the coattails of then President Cory Aquino in the People Power Revolution that toppled the Marcos dictatorship, Jejomar “Jojo” Binay came close to achieving his boyhood dream of becoming president of the Philippines. Indeed, his election to the vice presidency in 2010 brought him a heartbeat away from the presidency.

And now, he’s just one election away from reaching the pinnacle of his life. And after carefully choreographing every move since he took over the vice presidency, Jojo’s popularity among the people – particularly the poor – reached a level never before matched by any elected official including President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III.

Coconut Palace

Coconut Palace

Aquino visits Binay at the Coconut Palace

Aquino visits Binay at the Coconut Palace

Some might say that Jojo’s popularity was the result of his “hard work” as the Housing Czar in P-Noy’s administration, an appointment he sought after he failed to get the plum job of Secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). P-Noy gave him all the perks he wanted including a palace – the “Coconut Palace” – to reign over his domain. When Jojo asked for a P200-million pork barrel – the first time for a vice president – P-Noy gladly gave it to him. But that was a bad deal because that was the year the pork barrel scam was exposed, which implicated some of Jojo’s allies in the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), notably then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Jinggoy Estrada.

Lord of Makati

Lord-of-Makati.2In 2001, a lengthy article was published in Newsbreak that exposed Binay’s corrupt practices while he was serving as mayor of Makati City. Titled “The Lord of Makati,” the article began as follows: “In less than a decade, Jejomar ‘Jojo’ Binay, former chair of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and former mayor of Makati, accumulated at least P80 million worth of real estate properties in Makati and Batangas, which he kept undeclared, our investigation shows. The amount excludes P12 million in declared investments, as well as other businesses that he and his friends reportedly control through dummy corporations.

“After serving as mayor for 12 years, Binay now owns a 66-hectare farm in Rosario, Batangas—estimated to be almost double the size of the Ayala commercial center in Makati—according to our investigation. Based on conservative estimates of the land value alone, the property—excluding improvements—is worth about P23 million.”

Denial, denial, denial

Binay-Dynasty.2Binay denied those allegations and went about bandying himself as pro-poor champion. No amount of accusations would stick to his teflon-coated persona. He just kept on denying those allegations, saying that these were works of his political enemies. His popularity continued to soar. He was on top of the world, lording over a political landscape that he developed and nurtured during the past three decades. He built a network – nay, an empire! — by establishing “sister city” relationship between Makati City and more than 500 local government units (LGUs) — provincial, city, and municipal governments. He also kept close contacts with his Alpha Phi Omega (APO) fraternity brothers. And for the past 20 years, he had positioned himself as the President of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines whose membership could be his bridge to a large segment of voters.

Indeed, he was ready to take over the national government. All that separates him from his boyhood dream was the 2016 presidential elections. He was ready for the biggest fight of his life and he felt confident – nay, very confident – about it that he’s already acting as if he had won the election. Yes, fate destined him to be the leader of his people. And then, in a reversal of fate — just a year away from his crowning moment — Jojo’s world turned upside down!

Freeze order

Binay and Eduviges "Ebeng" Baloloy

Binay and Eduviges “Ebeng” Baloloy

On May 11, 2015, the Court of Appeals (CA) issued a freeze order on 242 bank accounts and insurance policies belonging to Binay and his family, as well as individuals suspected of being dummies of Jojo including his long-time financial officer Gerardo “Gerry” Limlingan Jr. and personal secretary Eduviges D. Baloloy. The freeze order was issued upon a petition of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) after finding probable cause with AMLC’s petition, which was the result of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales’ order to examine the Binays’ bank accounts last February. The freeze also ordered the banks to immediately — within 24 hours – report the balances of the bank accounts.

Binay-freeze-orderAccording to the AMLC report, Binay, his son Makati City Mayor Jejomar “Junjun” Binay Jr., and his alleged dummies had deposited at least P11 billion since 2008. On October 14, 2014 alone, more than P600 million were deposited in several accounts of Gerardo Limlingan Jr., Mario Oreta, and Bernadette Cezar Potollano. The following day, October 15, cash deposits totaling almost P80 million were made to their accounts.

The AMLC report also showed that between September 12 and October 22, 2014, more than P585 million was withdrawn on over-the-counter transactions from the bank accounts of Limlingan and Baloloy. Former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado in the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee hearings identified Limlingan as the person who allegedly received kickbacks for Jojo when he was the Mayor of Makati City.

The AMLC report indicated that Limlingan, Baloloy, and other persons associated with Jojo had made “massive withdrawals of funds and pretermination of investments” soon after the subcommittee conducted hearings on the alleged overpriced Makati City parking building in October 2014.

The AMLC report also indicated that between August 26 and November 26, 2014, more than P900 million in securities under the names of Limlingan and Baloloy were sold. And between September and December 2014, more than P1.1 billion was transferred from their two accounts to another account. And between August 20 and January 2015, the report also showed that more than P3.3 billion was withdrawn from the accounts of Binay, Limlingan, and Baloloy.

According to the AMLC report, Limlingan’s Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) – whose monthly income was P30,000 – were disproportionate to the values, frequency and complexity of his banking transactions.

Where is Limlingan?

Binay and Gerry Limlingan (Credit: The Equalizer)

Binay and Gerry Limlingan (Credit: The Equalizer)

It is interesting to note that Limlingan transferred P2 billion in a single day in September 2010 during the time that Binay was campaigning for vice president. But since then, Limlingan had vanished from public view. Recently, GMA News made repeated attempts to contact Limlingan at the Vistamar Building in Makati where he reportedly resides, but the building’s security guard said that he had left as early as 2010. Makati City Hall also denied that Limlingan was an employee. And the Office of the Vice President also denied that Limlingan was connected with it. So, where is Limlingan?

Binay-nooseDuring a press interview last April 2015, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said that they spent months looking for Limlingan. There is no Bureau of Immigration record that shows Limlingan had left the country so he was presumed to be in the country… hiding. “They are hiding him well, hopefully not six feet underground yet,” Trillanes said. He said that if Jojo really believed that he was clean, he should bring Limlingan to the Senate; which begs the question: Is hiding Limlingan indicative that his testimony before the Senate subcommittee could hurt Jojo’s presidential ambitions?  But unless Jojo produces Limlingan, the conventional wisdom is that Jojo has “unexplained wealth,” which by Philippine law would make him guilty of corruption. Has Jojo reached his Waterloo?

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Reclamation work at Fiery Cross Reef.

Reclamation work at Fiery Cross Reef.

How often do you hear someone ask, “Will the U.S. defend the Philippines if China attacked her?” Very often. As a matter of fact, with China reclaiming several islands inside the Philippines’ 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and building fortifications, runways, and harbors on them, many Filipinos have been wondering: “Why is it that Uncle Sam is not defending the Philippines as called for in the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT)?” The most common answer to that question is: “These islands are disputed by several other countries and the U.S. doesn’t want to get involved in territorial disputes and therefore she stays neutral.” And besides, Uncle Sam says that these islands are outside the scope of the MDT.

South China Sea.

South China Sea.

As a student of geopolitics, I have reservations – and misgivings – about this line of reasoning. While it may be true that “Politics is addition,” as the late statesman Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez loved to say, it’s not quite true in geopolitics, which is defined as: “A study of the influence of such factors as geography, economics, and demography on the politics and especially the foreign policy of a state.” If that was the case, then I must then say that “geopolitics is multiplication” compounded by realpolitik calculations… or miscalculations. If that doesn’t make sense to you, you’re not alone because geopolitics in today’s world is like a bowl of spaghetti (or pancit); that is: the more you try to straighten it out, the more it gets messed up.

Mutual Defense Treaty

US President Harry Truman and Philippine President Elpidio Quirino meet at the Oval Office on September 13, 1951.

US President Harry Truman and Philippine President Elpidio Quirino meet at the Oval Office on September 13, 1951.

At the end of World War II, the U.S. signed mutual defense treaties with several Asian allies to stop the spread of communism. The Philippines, which gained her independence from the U.S. on July 4, 1946, had an active and strong communist insurgency that was supported by Russia and China.

On August 30, 1951, the U.S. and the Philippines signed an MDT. The treaty consists of eight articles, of which Articles I through V dictate how the treaty works.

Article I says: “The Parties undertake, as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, to settle any international disputes in which they may be involved by peaceful means (italics mine) in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered and to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purpose of the United Nations.”

Article II says: “In order more effectively to achieve the objective of this Treaty, the Parties separately and jointly by self-help and mutual aid will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.”

Article III says: “The Parties, through their Foreign Ministers or their deputies, will consult together from time to time regarding the implementation of this Treaty and whenever in the opinion of either of them the territorial integrity, political independence or security of either of the Parties is threatened by external armed attack in the Pacific.”

Article IV says: “Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific Area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes. Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall be immediately reported to the Security Council of the United Nations. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.”

Article V says: “For the purpose of Article IV, an armed attack on either of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific or on its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.”

While Articles I, II and III are pretty much straightforward, Article IV requires that armed attacks shall be reported to the Security Council (SC) of the United Nations. The SC had five permanent members with veto powers; i.e., US, UK, USSR, France, and China. While communist USSR is no longer in existence and her seat was taken by the Russian Federation, China was represented by the Republic of China (ROC) government based in Taipei, Taiwan. Today, communist People’s Republic of China (PRC) government based in Beijing represents China on the SC. In the event that hostility – or war — broke out between China vs. US and the Philippines, China could use her veto power to block any attempt by the US to invoke the provision of Article IV.

Chinese reclamation projects

Pag-asa Island.

Pag-asa Island.

Recently, Philippine Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez, Western Command Chief, reported that Chinese forces on Subi Reef (Zamora Reef) in the Spratly Islands had sent radio messages warning seven Filipino patrol planes — on separate flights between Thitu Island (Pag-asa Island) and Chinese-held Subi Reef — to stay away. The Filipino patrol planes were flying to and from the airfield in Pag-asa Island, which is a municipality of Palawan.

The Chinese addressed the seven Filipino planes as “foreign planes” that were entering a “Chinese military area.” They were told to leave to avoid a possible “misjudgment.”

Last month, satellite photos were taken showing a runway and a harbor taking shape in the Fiery Cross Reef. With the reclamation projects going at full speed in at least six islands, it is anticipated that the naval and air bases would be operational by 2016.

War with China

US-Philippine joint exercise "Balikatan."

US-Philippine joint exercise “Balikatan.”

With all this construction going in the Spratly Islands, the U.S. continues to maintain her neutrality. The question is: Would the US come to the aid of the Philippines in the event of a war with China?

That’s a tough question but it has been proven time and time again that logistics plays a vital role in a war – any war… small or big, conventional or non-conventional. The U.S. should – nay, must – be able to move personnel, armaments, supplies, and support services to the war zone in a short time. But the problem is: the US doesn’t have the logistics she needs to fight a war in the Philippines pre-positioned nearby. She couldn’t use the battle-ready US forces pre-positioned in Japan and South Korea because they’re there specifically to defend them from North Korean or Chinese attack.

It would take months to assemble an expeditionary force to defend the Philippines. And since the Philippine Constitution doesn’t allow foreign troops and military bases on Philippine soil, there is simply no way for the U.S. to defend the Philippines from Chinese invasion.

The 12 senators who voted against the retention of US bases in the Philippines.

The 12 senators who voted against the retention of US bases in the Philippines.

And this brings to mind that ignominious day of September 16, 1991 when 12 senators voted not to retain the U.S. bases in the Philippines. The following year, the Subic Naval Base closed its doors for good. Two years later, China grabbed Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef) in the middle of the night. Today, the reef serves as an outpost for the Chinese Coast Guard. In 2012, China took possession of the Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) and roped it off to prevent Filipino fishing boats from entering the lagoon. With the entire Chinese reclamation projects gong on, it won’t be long before China imposes an EEZ around the Spratlys and an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over it, which would prevent Filipino planes and ships from entering “Chinese” territory.

US flag is lowered while the Philippine flag is raised during turnover ceremony at Subic Naval Base.

US flag is lowered while the Philippine flag is raised during turnover ceremony at Subic Naval Base.

And while all these things are going on, the U.S. continues to maintain her neutrality, which begs the question: Is Uncle Sam punishing the Philippines for kicking the US bases out in 1992?

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Photo: TORU YAMANAKA, AFP/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Photo: TORU YAMANAKA, AFP/Getty Images)

“I’ve worked to rebalance American foreign policy to ensure that we’re playing a larger and lasting role in the Asia Pacific.” With those words, U.S. President Barack Obama — in a Joint Press Conference with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — said in no uncertain terms that America would remain a Pacific power in the 21st century. And as the U.S.-Japan Joint Vision Statement says, “A revitalized alliance with Japan is making the U.S. position in Asia more geographically distributed, operationally resilient and politically sustainable.” In simplistic terms, that is what “Pivot to Asia” is all about. Or should I say, “Pivot to Japan”?

Obama must have realized that for his “Pivot to Asia” to work, he has to bring in Japan – whose naval power is second only to the U.S. in the region — as a strategic partner in containing a rising China whose aggressive military expansion in the East and South China Seas is causing tension among her neighbors. Indeed, China’s reclamation projects in at least six islands in the Spratly archipelago would give her control over the South China Sea. Just imagine China claiming a 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around the Spratlys and an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the South China Sea. When that happens, it would curtail maritime freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. And since Japan is heavily dependent on imported oil from the Middle East — which passes through the South China Sea — it is therefore in her best interest to partner with the U.S. in keeping the trade lanes in the South China Sea open.

New defense guidelines

First and Second Island Chains

First and Second Island Chains

The new defense guidelines – the first revision since 1997 — would allow Japan to participate in “global military cooperation” including defense against ballistic missiles, maritime security, and cyber and space attacks. These only happened after Japan passed a cabinet resolution last year reinterpreting her post-World War II pacifist constitution.

The resolution allows her to exercise the right to “collective self-defense,” which means that she could come to the aid of U.S. forces — or any other country’s forces for that matter — under attack even if there was no armed attack against Japan. This is a major change in the alliance because under the pacifist constitution Japan couldn’t use force to protect Americans in danger. Now, she can shoot down ballistic missiles heading toward the U.S.

But what seems to be the ultimate goal of the new guidelines is to strengthen the defenses along the First Island Chain to prevent China — who has been building her blue water navy — from breaking out of the First Island Chain into the deep blue waters of the Western Pacific all the way to the Second Island Chain.

“Offshore Defense”

Admiral Liu Huaqing

Admiral Liu Huaqing

In 1986, China shifted her naval strategy from “Coastal Defense” to “Offshore Defense.” Admiral Liu Huaqing, often referred to as the “father of the modern Chinese navy,” developed that strategy. He served as Commander of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) from 1982 to 1987.

However, Liu was aware at that time that the PLAN was limited to “Coastal Defense” only. To achieve an effective “Offshore Defense” strategy, which was to defend China’s maritime interests within China’s claimed maritime territories, Liu identified four requirements to be fulfilled, to wit: (1) The ability to seize limited sea control in certain areas for a certain period of time; (2) The ability to effectively defend China’s sea lanes; (3) The ability to fight outside of China’s claimed maritime areas; and (4) The ability to implement a credible nuclear deterrent. And to fulfill these requirements, the PLAN developed the following timetable:

Phase 1: To be achieved by 2000, when China has exerted control over her maritime territory within the First Island Chain; i.e., Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and South China Sea.

Phase 2: To be achieved by 2020, when China has extended control over the Second Island Chain.

Phase 3: To be achieved by 2050, when China has evolved into a true global navy.

Off target

Construction on Fiery Cross Reef.

Construction on Fiery Cross Reef.

Out of the four requirements, only requirements 1 and 2 have been partially fulfilled. To fulfill requirement 3, China needs to break out into the Second Island Chain and defend her maritime territories within the First Island Chain. And requirement 4 is still a work in progress. In essence, Phase 1 is now 15 years behind schedule. All in all, China might not be able to achieve her expansion goals until 2075… or beyond.

However, China has been working doubly hard to finish the reclamation projects in the South China Sea. Once they’re completed — and militarized – she could then exert her dominance over the waters west of the First Island Chain, which runs from Northeastern China through Japan, the Ryukyu archipelago, Taiwan, the Philippines, Borneo, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

Construction on Chigua Reef.

Construction on Chigua Reef.

With China’s reclamation projects expected to be completed by 2016, the battle lines for control of the First Island Chain are now being drawn. China’s objective is to break through the First Island Chain at either one of two choke points along the chain: the Miyako Strait between Taiwan and the Ryukyu islands or the Luzon Strait between Taiwan and Northern Philippines.

Defending the straits

If China closes the Taiwan Strait with mines, the trade flow to Japan would be redirected through the Luzon Strait.

If China closes the Taiwan Strait with mines, the trade flow to Japan would be redirected through the Luzon Strait.

Two years ago, Japan deployed several units of surface-to-ship missiles on Miyako Island, which could control navigation through the strategic Miyako Strait. Any attempt by China to break through the Miyako Strait would be difficult and could inflict heavy casualty to Chinese forces.

Last year, Japan began construction of a radar station on Yonaguni Island, her westernmost territory, which is only 93 miles from the disputed Senkaku Islands and less than 100 miles off the coast of Taiwan. The radar station would provide Japan with better defense and surveillance capabilities over the Senkakus, which China claims.

The Luzon Strait is 160 miles wide containing three island groups belonging to the Philippines.  The northernmost group of islands in the strait is Batanes.  It provides a natural vantage point from which to monitor maritime traffic in the strait, particularly in the Bashi Channel that separates Taiwan from the Philippines.

Subic Bay

Subic Bay

Recently, in conformance with the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which was signed in April 2014, the U.S. reportedly asked the Philippines for access to military bases in eight locations – four in Luzon, two in Cebu, and two in Palawan. The four sites in Luzon include the former U.S. bases in Subic and Clark. The other two are the Laoag Airport and Batanes Island. Surmise it to say, Laoag and Batanes would provide the U.S. with the capability to prevent China from breaking through the Bashi Channel or any of the other two channels, Babuyan and Balintang, in the Luzon Strait.

But due to the pending petition before the Philippine Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of EDCA, the U.S. has to wait until the High Court issues a ruling. If the High Court rejects EDCA, just like when the Philippine Senate rejected the retention of the American bases in 1992, then the Philippines will be taken out of the loop in the U.S.’s rebalancing of her forces in Asia Pacific.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has to make do with “Pivot to Japan.” It’s anticipated that with the signing of the new U.S.-Japan defense guidelines, Japanese warships would soon be joining American warships in patrolling the East and South China Seas. Uncle Sam couldn’t have gotten a better deal than that.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)