September 2016

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

benham-rise-6As soon as the United Nations had awarded Benham Rise to the Philippines than China sets her eyes on this undersea landmass in the Philippine Sea. According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), this 13-million-hectare area off the coast of Aurora province is potentially rich in mineral, natural gas deposits, and manganese nodules that are vital in the production of steel. Studies conducted by DENR have also shown large deposits of methane in solid form (methane hydrate or methane ice). Further studies also showed that natural gas deposits in the area would enable the Philippines to achieve energy sufficiency.

The Benham Rise is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ). However, she did not claim it until 2008. The following year, the Philippines, which was the sole claimant, formally submitted her claim to the U. N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

Larger than the entire island of Luzon, Benham Rise was awarded to the Philippines in 2012, after the United Nations approved her claim that Benham Rise was an extension of her continental shelf. In December 2013, the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) informed the DENR – with finality — that Benham Rise is part of the country’s continental shelf and territory. As such, it is not subject to any maritime boundary disputes and claims. Wrong!

In February 2016, the Philippines’ Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) reported that several Chinese ships were seen in the Benham Rise. The following July, China Daily published a report about China’s “secret undersea exploration” in the Benham Rise area. The report said that China discovered massive mineral deposits. It also said that the volume of natural gas deposits in the area was at par with what was discovered in the Spratly Islands.

Quid pro quo

Xi Jinping and Rodrigo Duterte (Credit: CNNPH)

Xi Jinping and Rodrigo Duterte (Credit: CNNPH)

With the recent warming up of relations between China and the Philippines under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, China has a grand opportunity to solidify her hold on the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal when Duterte visits China in October. It is expected that Chinese President Xi Jinping would shower Duterte – who has shown willingness to put the territorial disputes between the two countries in the back burner – with low-interest loans for infrastructure and economic development projects, and military hardware. But as China had demonstrated in previous “quid pro quo” deals with third-world countries, she’d get more than what she bargained for.

Indeed, China’s “wish list” could include lucrative economic contracts in the areas of energy, transportation, port management, agriculture, mining, and oil and gas exploration. It wouldn’t be surprising if China acquires long-term agreements to use the former American bases – such as the Subic Naval Base and Clark Airbase — as logistical support bases for her growing navy and air force that she needs to project power into the Second Island Chain, which runs from the Ogasawara Islands and Volcano Islands of Japan through Guam and the Marianas to Papua-New Guinea.

If China builds an artificial island on top of Scarborough Shoal (which at 58 square miles is slightly smaller than the area of Quezon City, the capital of the Philippines), she’d be in a position to militarize it. And once militarized – like what she did to the seven artificial islands she built in the Spratlys — she’d be able to control the choke point at the Bashi Channel in the Luzon Strait, which is the gateway to the Philippine Sea… and beyond.

Chinese Dream

Chinese Admiral Liu Hoaqing.

Chinese Admiral Liu Hoaqing.

In my column “China raises the ante” (July 31, 2013), I wrote: “Last June 27, 2013, an intriguing article appeared in the Want China Times titled, ‘China to take Second Island Chain by 2020: analyst.’ It says: ‘Within seven years, China will be able to control the Second Island Chain — a series of island groups that runs north to south from the Japanese archipelago to the Bonin and Marshall islands — now that the PLA Navy commands the nation’s first aircraft carrier, according to the Hangzhou-based Qianjiang Evening News.’

“The article also said: ‘In 1982, Admiral Liu Huaqing, the former commander of the PLA Navy and the mastermind of China’s modern naval strategy, said that it would be necessary for China to control the First and Second Island Chains by 2010 and 2020. The PLA Navy must be ready to challenge US domination over the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean in 2040. If China is able to dominate the Second Island Chain seven years from now, the East China Sea will become the backyard of the PLA Navy.’ ”

Lake Beijing

"Lake Beijing" bounded by Second Island Chain.

“Lake Beijing” bounded by Second Island Chain.

With China’s goal of controlling the vast Western Pacific, which includes the East China Sea (ECS), South China Sea (SCS), and the Philippine Sea, the entire Western Pacific would be transformed into “Lake Beijing.” The Philippines would be right in the middle of the lake, isolated from the rest of the world. “Lake Beijing” would also encompass the mineral-rich Benham Rise as well.

As things are today, China is behind in her timetable to achieve control over the First Island Chain, which includes the ECS and SCS. However, by militarizing the Spratly archipelago, the Paracel Islands, and Scarborough Shoal, China would be able to establish a “strategic triangle” formed by these three island groups where China could monitor – and control – all the movements in the SCS. The next step would be to declare an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the entire SCS. With an ADIZ already in place over the disputed Senkaku Islands in the ECS, China would then be ready to break out into the Second Island Chain right up to America’s doorsteps, Guam. And the last – and final — step would be to take full control of the choke point at the Strait of Malacca, and eventually… penetrate the Indian Ocean.

Indo-Asia-Pacific Region.

Indo-Asia-Pacific Region.

What is at stake in these disputed waters is control of the huge mineral deposits, marine resources, and the world’s busiest maritime lanes. What could the U.S. and her allies in the region do to stop China from gaining control over this huge body of water, which extends more than 10,000 miles from the Indian Ocean to the Second Island Chain?

If the U.S. fails to stop China, she might as well kiss the Indo-Asia-Pacific region goodbye and cocoon herself into isolation just like before she entered World War I. But inaction does not guarantee peace either. The “Munich Appeasement” of 1938 did not stop Germany from invading Czechoslovakia. On the contrary, it emboldened Germany to pursue territorial expansion, thinking that the Great Powers – particularly America — wouldn’t intervene. In fact, as Germany continued her conquest of Europe, then U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt told the American people in 1940: “I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again: your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.” Wrong!

Iran's Hassan Rouhani, China's Xi Jinping, and Russia's Vladimir Putin.

Iran’s Hassan Rouhani, China’s Xi Jinping, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Roosevelt declared war on Japan the following day. A few days later, Germany declared war on the U.S; thus, bringing the world to war once again for the second time.

 North Korea's Kim Jong Un.

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

Which begs the question: Is appeasement a guarantee for peace or just a momentary stop-gap that would only encourage a rogue country – China, Russia, North Korea or Iran — to start another world war? Sad to say, if history is the barometer of things to come, the imbroglio in the SCS has all the elements of war in the offing. And as China sets her eyes on Benham Rise, the world teeters on the brink of World War III.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, in white, walks away with officials following the ASEAN summit plenary meeting at National Convention Center in Vientiane, Laos, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, in white, walks away with officials following the ASEAN summit plenary meeting at National Convention Center in Vientiane, Laos, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

It was a very strange week! Was it a full moon… or was it sign of the times? Indeed, a nation’s leader going ballistic is not the usual norm even with the likes of… well, I don’t want to distract you from the issues so let’s move on.

The recent brouhaha on the eve of President Rodrigo Duterte’s departure for his first foreign foray to the ASEAN Summit in Vientiane, Laos has left many people wondering what was going on in Duterte’s mind? Frankly, a national leader uttering the curse “putang ina” – “son of a whore” – to the Pope, the United Nations Secretary General or to the President of the United States, is demeaning the position he holds. And worst, it gives a bad image to the people he leads. And yet, 91% of the Filipino people incredibly hold him in high esteem! As George Takei loves to say, “Oh my!”

It all began when Obama, before embarking on his last foreign trip, said that he’d talk to Duterte in Laos about human rights violations. Well, “human rights” is something that apparently hit a raw nerve in “Digong” – Duterte’s street moniker – who is reputed to condone killings of illegal drug pushers and users because he said they’re not “human beings.” Which reminds me of what Digong had told a crowd of cheering admirers, saying he doesn’t mind being likened to the late Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, whom human rights activists blamed for the deaths of up to 500,000 people in the 1970s.

Digong and Amin

Duterte and the "Last King of Scotland".

Duterte and the “Last King of Scotland”.

And the similarity between Digong and Amin reminds me of the movie, “The Last King of Scotland,” where Amin’s mercurial temperament and extreme mood change often makes one wonder if Amin had multiple personalities? Indeed, Duterte once told a group of reporters, “Ako, palabas-masok ako sa bipolar. One moment seryoso ako, one moment tatapunan ko kayo ng biro.” (I am bipolar. I am serious one moment, and the next moment I will joke with you.)

If true – meaning that he’s not joking about suffering from bipolar disorder – then we could be in for a roller coaster ride for the six years of his presidency. Indeed, his underlings – cabinet secretaries and department heads – would be scratching their heads (confused) and wiping their sweating armpits (nervous) every time Digong would give conflicting orders. While they are expected to be compliant and subservient, they would follow Digong’s orders, as they understood them, which could lead to bureaucratic chaos. The end result would be a dysfunctional government. But running a government gone berserk is one thing; running amuck around international summitries and gatherings is unspeakably horrible, to say the least.

Digong and Obama

duterte-is-a-colorful-guyIt did not then come as a surprise when Digong bad-mouthed Obama, the leader of the world’s most powerful country, before he left for Vientiane to attend the ASEAN meeting. When a reporter asked him how he would explain his administration’s recent extrajudicial killings to Obama, he said that Obama must respect him and not just throw questions at him. He then blurted, “Putang ina, I will swear at you in that forum!” And when Obama heard about this, all he said was “He’s a colorful guy” and cancelled the meeting. Yep, what Duterte did was like a doberman biting the toe nails of an elephant; it didn’t hurt the elephant.

But Digong – a fearless street fighter – has the temerity to admit in front of television in Indonesia that he killed a prisoner who raped an Australian missionary when he was mayor of Davao City. Instantly, the limelight was on him. But is that how a national leader should project himself on the international stage?

While it might have awed some of the leaders attending the summit and treated him like a celebrity, Digong’s explosive speech on television had left little doubt that he’s someone to be shunned and treated as an international pariah.

One-two-three…

U.S. Special Forces in Mindanao.

U.S. Special Forces in Mindanao.

But what Digong did in Vientiane was just an appetizer for the media whose voracious appetite for sensational and controversial scandals has no end. And no sooner had Digong landed in Manila than he dropped a bombshell on the U.S. Special Forces fighting the terrorists in Mindanao, saying they “have to go.” His reason for their eviction was to keep them from being killed by the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group. The next day — like a one-two-three punch — he announced that joint patrols with the U.S. in the South China Sea would end. He also announced that the Philippines would buy arms from China and Russia, saying that deals are already “in the pipeline.” He then disclosed that China had offered to provide him with a personal plane to use. His own “Air Force One”?

The following day, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin welcomed Digong’s “independent foreign policy” and remarked that relations between the two countries “are at a new turning point.” Not so fast, pal, because the following day, Digong declined the offer saying that the plane might have more problems than him taking commercial flights. And jokingly – or seriously? – he said the plane might explode!

That, in a nutshell, was Digong’s maiden “independent foreign policy.” Evidently, he didn’t consult with his Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. and National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to make sure that the independent foreign policy he was pursuing would not put the country in harm’s way. But while there is nothing wrong with taking an independent course in foreign affairs, history tells us “Never burn your bridges” because you’d never know when you would need it to go back.

Damage control

“We cannot forever be the little brown brothers of America." - Yasay

“We cannot forever be the little brown brothers of America.” – Yasay

A few days later, Yasay flew to Washington DC to meet with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to clarify that Duterte’s message to the U.S. Special Forces was not an indication of policy shift. He told Kerry, “We cannot forever be the little brown brothers of America.” Huh? It’s amazing that some Filipinos are still using that archaic line.

It must have been excruciatingly painful for Yasay trying to convince Kerry that what looked like a triangle was actually a square. But he didn’t realize that Kerry preferred a circle. As someone once said, “Foreign policy is not what it seems.” Indeed, what you asked for may not be what you’d get… if you’d get anything at all.

Meanwhile, a few days later, Lorenzana told the House of Representatives’ Appropriation Committee that American troops would remain in Mindanao despite the president’s statement that he wanted them out of Mindanao. “We still need them there because they have the surveillance capability that our Armed Forces don’t have,” said Lorenzana, a retired major general. He also told the House committee that the danger of Abu Sayyaf killing or kidnapping the American troops is remotely possible.

Brink of insignificance

idi-amin-caricatureWhile one might presume that the Department of National Defense is in good hands and standing on solid ground, the Department of Foreign Affairs is on shaky ground led by a person whose foreign affairs experience could be categorized as apprentice. And worst, we have President Duterte who has oversized cojones play-acting as Superman, Batman, Iron Man, and Spiderman all rolled into one.

This is not meant to disparage Duterte and Yasay. But the two personify the Republic of the Philippines in the international stage where world leaders see in them the strengths and weaknesses of the country they represent. All it takes is one major foreign policy fiasco to drive the country to the brink of insignificance.

Today, four decades after Idi Amin fled Uganda into exile, many people still vividly see the image of the brutal dictator lording over his ravaged country, which begs the question: Is the Philippines heading the way of Uganda?

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

 “I prefer a government run like hell by Filipinos to a government run like heaven by Americans.” -- Manuel L. Quezon

“I prefer a government run like hell by Filipinos to a government run like heaven by Americans.” — Manuel L. Quezon

If not for three major mistakes, the Philippines would be strong today – politically, economically, and militarily. We could have taken the place of South Korea as the 11th biggest economic power or even Japan as the third biggest economic power. While Japan and the Philippines were devastated in World War II and South Korea ruined during the Korean War, Japan and South Korea were reborn – like the Phoenix of lore – from the ashes of war. But the Philippines never did. Instead it fell down the economic ladder and became an economic basket case.

In 1966, the Philippines was the second most progressive country in Southeast Asia next to Japan. The ratio of how many times bigger Japan’s GDP per capita is against the Philippines was five then. In 1976, the ratio was 13.

The two events that may have contributed to the Philippines’ economic decline were the martial law in 1971 and the expiration of the Laurel-Langley Agreement in 1974. It was then that the Philippines came to be known as the “Sick Man of Asia” and stagnated in the company of Third World countries while other Asian countries enjoyed the bounty of what came to be known as “tiger economy.”

The Philippines tried to compete with the tiger economies but didn’t have the infusion of capital from foreign investors needed to fuel the economy. Thus, the country was hamstrung by lack of capital to build her manufacturing base and generate exportable products just like what the tiger economies were doing.

So why am I saying all these? What was my point? As I postulated earlier, the Philippines could have been at par or better in economic terms with South Korea or even Japan if not for three major mistakes in her history.

First mistake

The Flag of the United States of America is lowered while the Flag of the Philippines is raised during the Independence Day ceremonies on July 4, 1946

The Flag of the United States of America is lowered while the Flag of the Philippines is raised during the Independence Day ceremonies on July 4, 1946

The first mistake was the premature granting of independence to the Philippines. Through the insistence – and lobbying — of nationalist Filipino politicians led by Manuel L. Quezon, the United States enacted the Tydings-McDuffie Act in 1934, officially known as the Philippine Independence Act. This Act established the process for the Philippines, then an American colony, to become an independent country after a ten-year period. That would have been in 1945. Tydings-McDuffie also established the Commonwealth of the Philippines, a transitional government prior to independence. Quezon became the president of the Commonwealth. But nobody predicted that the Japanese would invade and occupy the Philippines during World War II.

When the war ended in 1945, the ten-year transition as provided by Tydings-McDuffie ended; thus, independence would have been granted. However, due to the devastation suffered by the Philippines, independence was postponed for one year to allow the country to recover. And this is where the first mistake occurred. Some political leaders pushed for postponement for five or 10 years to allow for rehabilitation of the country. However, the nationalists insisted on independence right away. They prevailed and independence was granted on July 4, 1946.

Second mistake

December 15, 1954: The Laurel-Langley Agreement is signed, and Senator Jose P. Laurel shakes hands with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Walter S. Robertson as Chairman James M. Langley smiles in the background.

December 15, 1954: The Laurel-Langley Agreement is signed, and Senator Jose P. Laurel shakes hands with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Walter S. Robertson as Chairman James M. Langley smiles in the background.

The second mistake was the failure of the Philippines to extend the life of the Laurel-Langley Agreement that amended the Bell Trade Act of 1946, known as the Philippines Trade Act. The Act was designed to set conditions on the Philippine economy and link it to the U.S. economy. The Act also had a provision – known as “parity” clause — that granted U.S. citizens equal economic rights with Filipinos.

In 1947, the Philippine Constitution was amended to include these parity rights, which was voted by a 78.89% majority in a national plebiscite. Many Filipino politicians supported the Parity Amendment because of the economic benefits it created while the country was recovering from World War II. However, it was controversial among the nationalistic Filipinos because the Philippine Constitution said that the country’s natural resources should only be for Filipinos.

In 1955, the Laurel-Langley Agreement was signed. The agreement gave full parity rights to American citizens, business corporations, and investors giving them access to 100% ownership in all areas of the economy. It also made parity privileges reciprocal; thus reducing tariffs on Philippine products exported to the U.S. But the nationalists said that it served foreign interests while exacerbating poverty.

The Agreement expired in 1974 during the Marcos dictatorship. With its expiration, it ended the U.S. authority to control the exchange rate of the Philippine Peso, which was tied at a fixed rate to the U.S. dollar. When the Agreement expired, the exchange rate of the Peso increased drastically. Today, it fluctuates around 45 pesos to the dollar.

And the worst part was the country closed its doors to globalization, which is what countries like Japan, South Korea, and the other tiger economies have embraced. In retrospect, the parity rights may have been the precursor to globalized economy, where trade barriers are systematically removed.

Third mistake

The Senate's "Magnificent 12" raise their clenched fists after winning the vote to reject the extension of the U.S. bases agreement in 1991.

The Senate’s “Magnificent 12” raise their clenched fists after winning the vote to reject the extension of the U.S. bases agreement in 1991.

The third mistake was the Philippine Senate’s rejection of the retention of U.S. bases in the Philippines. In 1991, the Senate voted by a razor-thin majority — 12-11 — not to renew the bases agreement. The following year, after attempts were made to keep the bases, the U.S. withdrew all her forces.

US Flag lowered and Philippine flag raised during turnover of Subic Bay Naval Base.

US Flag lowered and Philippine flag raised during turnover of Subic Bay Naval Base.

Two years later, China occupied the Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, which was within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Over the protest of the Philippine government, China built structures on stilts, saying they would be used to shelter fishermen. In 1999, China added more structures, which appeared to look like military fortification.

In 2012, China grabbed Scarborough Shoal and prevented Filipinos from fishing in its environs. A year later, she started building artificial islands around seven rocks and reefs in the Spratly Islands, all within the Philippines’ EEZ. Today, satellite photos show runways, harbors, lighthouses, and buildings on these islands. Obviously, China is in the process of militarizing the seven artificial islands.

The question is: If these three historical mistakes did not happen, what would the Philippines be like today?

Had Philippine independence been postponed for 10 years, it would have given the country time and opportunity to recover just like Japan and South Korea did after they were devastated by war. They were smart to put themselves under the military protection of the U.S. and avail of American economic patronage and trade preferences.

scarborough-shoal-aerial-view-2Meanwhile, with no warships and warplanes, the Philippines was helplessly at the mercy of foreign invaders. Yet, after losing Scarborough Shoal and the Spratlys to China, you’d think that the Philippine leaders are now keen to realize what could be best for the country? It doesn’t seem like it. The politicians are still fighting their little turfs among themselves and our national leaders are so protective of the country’s sovereignty and national interests from perceived American interference in our internal affairs. But they wouldn’t hesitate to remind America of her treaty obligations to defend the Philippines from foreign invasion.

But the challenge the Philippines is facing now is how to avoid making the fourth mistake, which is how to deal with China vis-à-vis the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. The Permanent Court of Arbitration’s (PCA) ruling that invalidated China’s “nine-dash line” claim and has no historical rights to the South China has placed the Philippines in the driver’s seat in any bilateral negotiations including pursuing legal action in the international court. Let’s not lose that hard-earned victory.

While we cannot turn back the wheel of history, we can chart our future by looking back at our history. As someone once said, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Obama and Modi: Over a cup of coffee.

Obama and Modi: Over a cup of coffee.

With the signing of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) between the U.S. and India, U.S. President Barack Obama achieved a key part of his “Pivot to Asia” strategy. Indeed, it is a major accomplishment considering that the U.S. had been negotiating such an agreement for the past 12 years.

And the beauty of it is while it strengthens the foundation of Obama’s rebalancing of U.S. forces in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, it also reinforces Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Act East policy; thus, extending India’s reach beyond the Indian Ocean into the Western Pacific. What the U.S. and India have accomplished is create a strategic partnership that would be a counterforce to China’s aggressive moves in the East and South China Seas and, eventually, the Indian Ocean.

"Strategic Diamond"

“Strategic Diamond”

In an opinion editorial (op-ed) written by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in January 2013, he said that Chinese power is increasingly transfiguring the East and South China Seas into “Lake Beijing.” It sounded ominous then. But today, it is pretty close to becoming a reality. China had reclaimed seven reefs in the South China Sea (SCS) and had built artificial islands around them, all within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Philippines. Recent satellite photos showed that China is building military fortifications including runways, deep-water harbors, lighthouses, and radar installations. And once China declares an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over 90% of the SCS that she claims, it would then be nigh impossible to reverse what China did without going to war.

Timetable

US-vs-ChinaGeopolitical and military experts are divided on a timetable. But most of them agree that war between the U.S. and China could happen sooner or later. Some say within a year. Some say 2020, while a few others say 2034.

Evidently, China has put her military modernization plan on the fast tract. While the U.S. still has military advantage, China is fast catching up. And many experts believe that 2020 would be the year when China could surpass the U.S. if the U.S. lets up with her technological edge over China. It is important to note that the Chinese generals have the mindset of Sun Tzu; that is, they wouldn’t go to war for as long as they believe the U.S. is stronger than China.

First and Second Island Chains

First and Second Island Chains

First and Second Island Chains

If you’ve been following American military strategy since the beginning of the Cold War, she’s been busy building military alliance with countries in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. To date, the U.S. has defense treaties with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, and Australia. These treaty allies – with the exception of the Philippines – are strong militarily, politically, and economically.

While the Philippines may be the weakest link in the First Island Chain – from Japan through Taiwan, the Philippines, Borneo, Malaysia, and Vietnam – it’s geostrategic location is a natural barrier against Chinese intrusion into the Second Island Chain –from Japan through Guam, the Marianas Islands, and Papua-New Guinea.

Philippines-territorial-claimsIt did not then come as a surprise when the U.S. and the Philippines signed – over the objections of leftists politicians and activists — an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which is to allow the deployment of American military forces on a “rotational” basis in the country. Right now, four airbases and an army base have been selected to base them. In addition, the U.S. Navy is using the former Subic Bay Naval Base for port calls and to replenish supplies, while American surveillance aircraft are stationed at the former Clark Airbase.

In addition to the six treaty allies, the U.S. has strategic partnership with Singapore, where an American naval flotilla is home ported. The U.S. is also developing defense relationship with Vietnam, while Malaysia and Indonesia aren’t too far off the grid. With Malaysia and Indonesia having maritime territorial disputes with China on their own, they welcome the presence of American warships in the SCS. They know that for as long as the U.S. maintains a superior naval presence – more than 200 warships and 400 warplanes deployed to five aircraft carrier strike groups — in the Indo-Asia-Pacific waters, China would be contained.

The question is: How can the U.S. maintain her primacy in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region? The answer is in Prime Minister Abe’s op-ed. He said: “To counteract China’s primacy in southern waters [SCS], Japan must augment its combat and police capabilities while forging a ‘diamond’ with the United States, Australia, and India to defend the commons in East and South Asia.”

Red line

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reacts to China’s “red line” threat if Japan will join the U.S.-led freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) in the South China Sea.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reacts to China’s “red line” threat if Japan will join the U.S.-led freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) in the South China Sea.

The Chinese must have taken note of Abe’s op-ed because recently Kyodo News reported that China’s Ambassador to Japan, Cheng Yonghua, had told a Japanese official that if Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force joined the U.S.-led freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) in the SCS, Japan would have crossed a “red line.”

In another diplomatic incident, China warned Australia about a media release pertaining to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling that favored the Philippines. The media release quoted Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop as saying: “The Australian Government calls on the Philippines and China to abide by the ruling, which is final and binding on both parties.” Immediately, the Chinese protested against Bishop’s “wrong remarks.”

Meanwhile, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte sent former President Fidel V. Ramos to Hong Kong to meet up with some contacts in China. While nothing definitive came out of the meetings, the way is paved for Duterte to initiate bilateral talks with China. China agreed. However, she said that the Philippines mustn’t bring the PCA ruling to the table, which raises the question: Would China be willing to give some concessions to the Philippines or would she insists on having it all? But the question is not about keeping those little rocks, reefs, and shoals, it’s about who would reign over the entire Indo-Asia-Pacific region?

Chinese Dream

Chinese Admiral Liu Huaqing

Chinese Admiral Liu Huaqing

In 1982, Chinese Admiral Liu Huaqing, the architect of China’s modern naval strategy, was quoted as saying that it would be necessary for China to control the First and Second Island Chains by 2010 and 2020, respectively. “The PLA Navy must be ready to challenge US domination over the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean in 2040. If China is able to dominate the Second Island Chain seven years from now, the East China Sea will become the backyard of the PLA Navy,” he said.

However, China is running behind schedule. But if nobody stops her from reclaiming the Scarborough Shoal, she would be in a position to control the First Island Chain by 2020, the Second Island Chain by 2030, and the Indian Ocean by 2050.

Ultimately, it would all come down to who would be the strongest. But if what Abe had envisioned in 2013 would come to fruition, which is to form a strategic partnership among the four Indo-Asia-Pacific maritime democracies – Japan, U.S., Australia and India — the time may not be too far away for them to challenge any attempt by China to assert total control over the region. Indeed, with the signing of LEMOA, the “strategic diamond” is taking shape in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)