April 2017

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Duterte’s balancing act between the U.S. and China (Credit: South China Morning Post).

Duterte’s balancing act between the U.S. and China (Credit: South China Morning Post).

When Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory message to President Rodrigo Duterte on the occasion of his inauguration as president of the Philippines, Duterte heaped praise on Xi, describing him “a great president.” “I was honored, receiving a congratulatory message from a great president, uh prime minister,” Duterte said. The Chinese foreign ministry released a statement that it is a standard diplomatic tradition for heads of state to send congratulatory messages. But to Duterte, it was a big deal. Thus began the “friendship” between Duterte and Xi.

Duterte then made a series of announcements, one of which called for the withdrawal of U.S. Special Forces troops from Mindanao, saying their “presence could complicate offensives against Islamist militants notorious for beheading Westerners.”

Duterte also declared that the upcoming U.S.-Philippines joint military exercises would be “the last” and ruled out any joint navy patrols in the West Philippine Sea. However, he pledged to honor the country’s security treaty with the U.S. He said that China opposed joint marine drills in the Philippines. He said that there would be no more war games with the U.S. after that. “I am serving notice now to the Americans, this will be the last military exercise,” he said.

Presidents Rodrigo Duterte and Xi Jinping shake hands during Duterte’s state visit to China.

Presidents Rodrigo Duterte and Xi Jinping shake hands during Duterte’s state visit to China.

During a state visit to China last October where he announced his military and economic “separation” from the U.S., Duterte told an audience of business leaders, “America has lost now. I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow.” He added, “And maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world: China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.”

But when President-elect Donald Trump called Duterte last December, Duterte was on cloud nine. During their seven-minute conversation, Trump praised Duterte for doing “the right way” in his fight against illegal drugs. He later told the media, “I could sense a good rapport, an animated President-elect Trump. And he was wishing me success in my campaign against the drug problem.” At that time, Duterte’s “war on drugs” had left 4,500 dead – killed by the police and vigilantes.

Obama’s neutrality

Duterte and former U.S. President Barack Obama.

Duterte and former U.S. President Barack Obama.

Last March, speaking before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines convention, Duterte berated the U.S. for failing to stop China’s building activities in the disputed West Philippine Sea. In an indirect reference to then President Obama, he said: “Why did you not at the first instance, go to the Chinese working and building structures there? Why didn’t you admonish them? Why didn’t you deploy five aircraft carriers and threaten to fire on them?” Of course, it was common knowledge that Obama’s oft-repeated answer when he was asked about China’s construction of artificial islands on several reefs in the Spratlys was: The U.S. remains neutral in the territorial and maritime disputes between China and the other five claimant nations. Needless to say, Obama’s neutrality in the disputes gave China a carte blanche to do whatever she wants to do in the South China Sea (SCS). It’s no wonder then that Duterte couldn’t rely on the U.S. — in spite of the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) — to maintain the status quo in the SCS. With no war-capable warships and warplanes, the Philippines doesn’t have the capability to protect her sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Trump’s ascendancy

Trump campaigning for the presidency.

Trump campaigning for the presidency.

But the geopolitical calculus has changed since Trump assumed the U.S. presidency. His predecessor, former president Barack Obama’s doctrine of “strategic patience” – a euphemism for appeasement – didn’t work with China and North Korea. Obama should have known that these two communist countries see appeasement as a sign of weakness. It didn’t surprise anyone then that China played Obama’s “strategic patience” to her advantage and took possession of several islands in the SCS. Obama maintained his “neutrality.”

Recently, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visited South Korea to reassure Seoul of the U.S. commitment to defend the country from North Korea. He told South Korea that the era of “strategic patience” is over and warned North Korea not to test Trump’s resolve, noting that Trump had ordered a missile strike against Syria.

U.S. warship fires Tomahawk cruise missile at a Syrian airbase.

U.S. warship fires Tomahawk cruise missile at a Syrian airbase.

Trump’s order to strike at a Syrian airbase and to drop the “mother of all bombs” on an ISIS camp in Afghanistan must have convinced Duterte that there is a new ball game Uncle Sam is playing on the world stage. It didn’t take long for Duterte to cozy up to Trump. Speaking in Doha, Qatar, he heaped praise on Trump, calling him “a realist and a pragmatic thinker.” “Trump is profound even if he does not seem to be one. Just like me, I am not that bright but I am very deliberate,” he said. “Just like me…” cements the affinity of the two leaders, who are in so many ways similar in their idiosyncrasies and brashness.

Balikatan joint U.S.-Philippines exercise in 2016.

Balikatan joint U.S.-Philippines exercise in 2016.

Consequently, Duterte agreed to hold the joint U.S.-Philippines exercise known as Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder), despite earlier pronouncements that he might cancel joint exercises with the Americans, including withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country. And this begs the question: What caused Duterte to change his anti-American rhetoric to a friendlier tone?

Could it be that recent incident of Chinese intrusion into the Benham Rise and news report of China’s plans to build an “environmental monitoring station” on Scarborough Shoal awakened Duterte from his dream of everlasting love affair with China? But the reality is: China dreams of becoming the undisputed hegemon in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. And that entails having naval superiority over the entire Pacific Ocean all the way to the Indian Ocean.

Balancing act

A recent news report said, “A group of Filipino fishermen accused China’s coast guard of shooting at their vessel in the disputed South China Sea.” A Philippine Coast Guard statement said that a Chinese speedboat fired seven times at the vessel. The incident happened near the disputed Union Banks atoll in the center of Spratly Islands, 143 miles from Palawan, which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Asked about the incident, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said: “I have no information on that. And as you have said, it is unclear who was responsible. China will also need to verify the facts.”

Philippine Secretary of Defense gen. Delfin Lorenzana visits Pag-asa Island in the Spratlys.

Philippine Secretary of Defense gen. Delfin Lorenzana visits Pag-asa Island in the Spratlys.

Last April 21, it was reported in the news that the Chinese Navy challenged two Philippine fighter planes, one of which was carrying Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Armed Forces Chief Gen. Eduardo Ano, who were enroute to Pag-Asa Island in the West Philippine Sea.

Filipino soldiers stationed at Pag-asa Island.

Filipino soldiers stationed at Pag-asa Island.

The Chinese warned that the aircraft were illegally entering Chinese territory and they should leave to avoid “miscalculation.” Beijing expressed alarm over the visit, saying it ran counter to an “important consensus” related between the leaders of the two countries. Which raises the question: Did Duterte relinquish sovereignty of Pag-asa Island to appease China?

Duterte has so far reacted by playing a balancing act, pitting the U.S. against China. While this kind of “balancing act” might work with Vietnam and Indonesia, Duterte doesn’t have the temerity that the two leaders of Indonesia and Vietnam have in asserting their sovereignty.

Rex Tillerson, James Mattis, and Mike Pence. (Credit: Andrew Harrer/Akio Kon/John Taggart/Bloomberg.

Rex Tillerson, James Mattis, and Mike Pence. (Credit: Andrew Harrer/Akio Kon/John Taggart/Bloomberg.

In the past several weeks, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and Vice President Mike Pence visited several Asian countries and Australia. None of them visited the Philippines, which raises the question: Why is Uncle Sam ignoring Duterte? Is Trump sending Duterte a clear message that he has to do more than a “balancing act” – teetering back and forth between China and the U.S. — to become a key geopolitical player in Asia?

Former President Fidel V. Ramos.

Former President Fidel V. Ramos.

Last April 11, former President Fidel V. Ramos, speaking during the commemoration of the Bataan Death March of 1942 – where some 30,000 Filipinos and 2,000 Americans died — said that the U.S. is the Philippines’ “most sincere, devoted, patriotic, and fearless” ally. He then expressed his hope that Duterte would “realize in time the great importance of the decades-long relationship between the Philippines and the U.S.”

Duterte and Trump will have a chance to meet in November during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) summit and East Asian Summit in Manila. This would give Duterte and Trump a chance to measure each other up and work to reinforce their countries’ alliance, which has endured for more than 70 years.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

North Korea's Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.

North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.

In the wake of the Tomahawk cruise missile strikes on a Syrian airbase and after dropping a 2,100-pound “Mother of all Bombs” – MOAB – in Afghanistan, North Korea had threatened to test another nuclear weapon, her sixth test. In reaction, senior U.S. intelligence officials told the media that the U.S. is prepared to launch a preemptive strike with conventional weapons against North Korea if they’re convinced that North Korea is about to perform a nuclear weapons test.

Trump tells Xi, “Mr. President, let me explain something to you. We have just fired 59 missiles...”

Trump tells Xi, “Mr. President, let me explain something to you. We have just fired 59 missiles…”

Now that Trump has shown that he has cojones and is willing to risk going to war with North Korea, the geopolitical chess game has changed direction. What happened at the summit meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s Mar-a-lago resort in Florida was one for the books. Trump told Xi as they were having dessert, “Mr. President, let me explain something to you. We have just fired 59 missiles, all of which hit by the way, unbelievable, from hundreds of miles away.” Trump said the Xi paused for 10 seconds and then asked the interpreter to please say it again. Then Xi told Trump, “Anybody that was so brutal and uses gases to do that to young children and babies – it’s ok.” In a chess game, that was a brilliant end game: Trump checked Xi and Xi resigned to avoid a checkmate.

“We have a good chemistry,” Trump now said of Xi. Not too long ago, when he was campaigning for the presidency, Trump accused China of being a currency manipulator and a thief of American jobs. He said that China should no longer be allowed to “rape our country.” If elected, he promised to impose heavy tariffs on China and take her to court for shady trade practices.

But, ever the consummate dealmaker – or I might say, a wily wheeler-dealer — Trump flip-flops on the issues and went easy on Xi. He must have taken note of what Xi said at the start of their meeting, to wit: “There are a thousand reasons to get China-US relations right, and not one reason to spoil it.” Trump abandoned his position on U.S.-China trade, which gave Xi a sigh of relief. He did not declare China as a currency manipulator and the South China Sea and Taiwan were not discussed, as they would surely have caused some friction. Trump paid a heavy price for whatever concessions he got, if any. But they agreed to form a working group with a “100-day plan” to bolster American exports and reduce the US bilateral deficit.

China’s burden

Gen. Douglas MacArthur during the Inchon invasion in Korea.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur during the Inchon invasion in Korea.

It’s interesting to note that on April 5, on the eve of the Trump-Xi summit, the Chinese government-owned Global Times published China’s “bottom line” on the situation on the Korean Peninsula. It said that China would not allow a “hostile government” in Pyongyang. It also said that Beijing would “not tolerate a U.S. military push toward the Yalu River.” It did not then come as a surprise when Beijing deployed 150,000 People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops to the China-North Korea border at the Yalu River. This reminds us when hordes of Chinese troops crossed the Yalu River in October 1950 during the Korean War to stop the northward push of the United Nations (UN) forces under the command of Gen Douglas MacArthur. The Chinese intervention pushed the UN forces back and the war seesawed until it ended on July 27, 1953, when an armistice was signed. Technically, the two Koreas are still at war today.

Indeed, China hasn’t changed her position since the time of Mao Zedong, which is to protect and preserve the communist regime in North Korea. Let’s face it: Korean reunification under the existing South Korean government would not be palatable to the Chinese rulers. The best thing that the U.S. could hope for would be a regime change that would usher in a friendlier communist government like Vietnam is today. But would Xi agree to that? I don’t think so. Don’t be fooled by his affability and “soft power” approach to world economic dominance. But deep inside him, he is a dogmatic and hard-line communist in the mold of Mao.

Putin scared stiff

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad.

In the case of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Tomahawk cruise missile strikes in Syria must have scared the daylights out of him. It caught him flat-footed and dealt a humiliating blow to his ego. His inability to stop the strikes is a repudiation of Russia’s much-ballyhooed air defense system and proves that Putin is an unreliable ally. Indeed, the Tomahawk strikes diminished Putin’s image as a fearsome bully who uses nuclear blackmail to get what he wants. Not anymore. The new bully in the neighborhood is Trump. The difference between the two is: Putin is unpredictably predictable while Trump is predictably unpredictable. That makes Trump more dangerous than Putin.

21,000-pound “Mother of all Bombs” dropped in Afghanistan.

21,000-pound “Mother of all Bombs” dropped in Afghanistan.

And to show that Trump means business, he dropped the “Mother of all Bombs” – America’s most powerful non-nuclear bomb – on a network of fortified underground tunnels in Afghanistan that ISIS used to launch attacks on Afghan forces. The strike also killed at least 94 ISIS fighters.

On the European continent, Putin’s misadventures in Ukraine and Crimea might look like a geopolitical victory for him but are actually a big setback for him. Prior to the Ukraine invasion, Russia’s relations with the Eastern European countries — her former satellite states – were mutually economically beneficial. Now, these Eastern European countries, fearful of Putin’s aggressive behavior, have turned to their NATO allies for protection. The U.S. and several other NATO countries responded by sending thousands of troops and hundreds of tanks including heavy weapons to Poland and the three Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. They formed a “wall of steel” along the border with Russia.

Kim Jong-un’s obsession

U.S. Carrier Strike Group.

U.S. Carrier Strike Group.

Trump’s slogan “Peace through strength” is finally put to a test. A few days after the Trump-Xi summit meeting, Trump ordered the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group to sail to the waters off North Korea in response to North Korea’s planned nuclear weapons test, which was scheduled to coincide with the 105th birth anniversary of North Korea’s founder and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un’s grandfather Kim Il-Sung last April 15. The occasion was celebrated with a parade showing a variety of offensive missiles. During the parade Kim threatened to annihilate the U.S. with what he called “game-changing” missiles. He vowed to “beat down enemies with the power of nuclear justice.”

Within hours after the parade, North Korea attempted to launch a ballistic missile and failed. “It blew up almost immediately,” an observer said. But the fact that North Korea tried to launch the missile in spite of warnings from South Korea and the U.S., is an indication that Kim is obsessed with making his country a nuclear power. It is estimated that North Korea may already have at least a dozen nuclear weapons, which she can use against South Korea, particularly targeting the huge U.S. base near the DMZ.

 North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un and his generals.

North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un and his generals.

Some experts believe that North Korea could build a hundred nuclear weapons within five years. North Korea could then become a very dangerous threat to the peace and stability in East Asia. With that in mind, Japan and South Korea might decide to build their own nuclear capability. In particular, Japan could produce nuclear weapons within six months if she wanted to. She has 47 metric tons of weapons-usable plutonium, which is enough to make nearly 6,000 warheads like the one the U.S. dropped on Nagasaki. This huge cache was the by-product from reprocessing of spent uranium and plutonium used in Japan’s nuclear plants, which makes one wonder: Would Japan make nuclear warheads and use them if she were threatened with nuclear extinction by North Korea? Well, your guess is as good as mine. But I think your guess is: Yes, she would. Who wouldn’t?

North Korea tests multiple ballistic missiles simultaneously.

North Korea tests multiple ballistic missiles simultaneously.

The U.S. and China’s goal is the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. But for as long as Kim Jong-un is in power, that is not going to happen. And with North Korea fast-tracking her production of nuclear weapons and the development of land-based and submarine-launched medium- and long-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching as far as the U.S., she could become a nuclear superpower within a decade. And this begs the question: Would the U.S. allow a rogue nuclear superpower to threaten not only the security of Japan and South Korea but the existence of America as well? Trump’s dilemma is that there is no easy solution to the North Korean problem. He might just bite the bullet to keep the peace in Asia-Pacific.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

 Pag-asa Island in the Kalayaan Group of Islands.

Pag-asa Island in the Kalayaan Group of Islands.

Since Rodrigo Duterte assumed the presidency of the Philippines, he had demonstrated a clear bias for China and – by his own words – hatred of the United States.

Nine-dash line.

Nine-dash line.

It did not then come as a surprise that he did not pursue the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s (PCA) ruling that China has no “historical rights” based on the “nine-dash line” map. China rejected the ruling. Duterte set aside the PCA’s award, saying that he has no plans to raise the arbitral ruling right now.

Satisfied with President Duterte’s decision to not pursue the arbitral ruling, China showered the country with infrastructure, economic, and military aid in billions of dollars. Duterte was so happy that he declared that China loves the Philippines and the Filipino people. China’s “charm offensive,” which includes signing a six- year development plan, paid off and Duterte was happy as a clam. “China is our friend,” he declared.

But in spite of China’s expression of “love,” there are two disturbing things that are happening in the country. The first is that China continues to provide weapons to the communist New People’s Army (NPA), which is becoming stronger – and bolder — in fighting the government. The second is that China remains the biggest – if not the only – source of illegal drugs that are flooding the country. The Philippine National Police (PNP) admitted that it’s helpless in stopping the flow of the illegal drug “shabu” into the country.

Stern warning

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.

Last March, a series of events occurred that has taken the attention of the world. First, it was reported in the news that Xiao Jie, mayor of China’s Sansha City, was quoted as saying that preparations were underway to build an environmental monitoring station on Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal. Duterte reacted by saying that the Philippines cannot stop China from building on the shoal for now. “We can’t stop China from doing this thing,” he said.

But Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio disagreed. He sternly warned that such structures might bolster China’s claims in the disputed waters. He said that the installation of “radar stations” in the shoal will complete Chinese coverage of the West Philippine Sea and be used to enforce its “nine-dash line.” He reminded Duterte that the “President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, which is tasked by the Constitution to defend the country’s territory.”

Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.

Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.

Carpio recommended that Duterte can fulfill his constitutional duty by doing any or all of five things, one of which is: “Ask the United States to declare that Scarborough Shoal is part of Philippine territory for purposes of the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty since the shoal has been part of Philippine territory even during the American colonial period.” With what is happening in North Korea right now, the U.S. might see this as an opportunity to bolster her alliances with five treaty allies (South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Australia) that form the First Island Chain.

A few days later, Duterte said that China gave her word not to undertake construction on Scarborough Shoal. He was quoted in the news as saying, “I got word from the Chinese government, that in deference to our friendship, they want to preserve the relations, do not turn it sour, they are not building in Panatag. I told them thank you… they said nothing [will be built] on Panatag, [they] will never do it there.” But “never” is something that China often says but rarely does. We’ve heard her say that too often in her “salami-slicing” tactics in the Spratly archipelago since she took possession of the Mischief (Panganiban) Reef in 1995. She built a small structure on stilts over it and told the Philippines that it was merely a “fishermen’s shelter.” Today, a large fortification is built on it.

Secret undersea exploration

Benham Rise.

Benham Rise.

But it didn’t take too long before China made her next step forward. In my column, “Appeasing the Chinese Dragon” (April 7, 2017), I wrote: “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.

“During a press conference last March 10, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said that the Philippines can explore and develop the natural resources in Benham Rise as a sovereign right but she cannot take the region as her own territory.

“The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) sought clarification on what Geng said. In response, the Chinese informed DFA that they recognize the Philippines’ sovereign rights and they are not disputing Benham Rise.”

Obviously, it’s another instance of China’s “two steps forward, one step backward” strategy she’s been using to expand her control over the islands in the South China Sea (SCS). China’s next move would most likely be to propose a joint Philippines-China exploration of Benham Rise. This reminds us of the tactics she used when the Philippines, China, and Vietnam held the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) in the Spratlys in 2005-2008. It gave China an “open window” to claim the Recto Bank. Indeed, as soon as then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her Chinese and Vietnamese counterparts signed the JSMU, China started claiming Recto Bank.

Flash of enlightenment

Occupation of Spratly Islands by country.

Occupation of Spratly Islands by country.

Last April 6, Duterte must have seen a flash of enlightenment. Suddenly, he turned 180 degrees from his position that the Philippines is safe from Chinese imperialist expansion for as long as he kowtows to China’s powers-that-be and wouldn’t challenge China’s encroachment of Philippine territory. He ordered the Armed Forces to “occupy” the nine islands in the Kalayaan Group of Islands in the Spratlys and personally plant a Philippine flag there to indicate the country’s sovereignty over these islands. He also said he wants to “officially claim” Benham Rise and change its name to “Philippine Ridge.”

It is expected that Duterte’s drastic policy shift would set off a series of tectonic geopolitical ramblings, particularly from China. It would also send a strong signal to Uncle Sam that Duterte is now willing to play ball with U.S. President Donald Trump and his generals, who seem to be ready to retake America’s role as the world’s preeminent superpower. Indeed, it would serve America’s national interests in the Pacific and also strengthen the weakest link – the Philippines — in the First Island Chain; thus, preventing China from breaking out into the Philippine Sea where Benham Rise is located.

What the future bodes

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

But the question is: How would China react to Duterte’s “independent” foreign policy that is now evolving into a foreign policy independent of Chinese influence? Further, if China attacks the troops deployed to the nine Kalayaan islands, how would Duterte defend them? Would the U.S. defend them? If so, would it start a war between the U.S. and China? And as a consequence, would it ignite World War III?

There are no answers to these questions yet. However, it elicited a number of conspiracy theories. One of them says that China ordered Duterte to occupy the islands to give the Chinese a pretense to attack the country. Another theory says that Duterte wants to form a China-backed revolutionary government and eventually convert the country into a Cuban-style communist society. Another one says that the Philippines would be balkanized into several countries or territories with Luzon and Palawan becoming provinces of China, Mindanao becoming a Muslim republic aligned with Malaysia, and the creation of a Republic of the Visayas under the protectorate of the U.S. It might sound outlandish but when the country cannot get her act together, breaking it up might just be the convenient solution to a complex – and apparently unsolvable problem — just like what happened to Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

At the end of the day, Duterte’s bold move in the Spratlys might just be what the country needs. Or, could it be that he is just posturing and would back off if China comes out strong against his move?

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Chinese-Dragon-at-DuskAccording to Chinese mythology, dragons are legendary creatures that symbolize power and strength. Today, the Chinese Dragon is China’s national symbol just like the eagle is to the U.S. and the bear to Russia.

In 1949 Mao Zedong’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) drove the Kuomintang government out of Mainland China in a bloody civil war and established the People’s Republic of China (PRC). No sooner had Mao gained power than China started expanding its domain beyond its borders. In 1959, China occupied Tibet and incorporated it into the PRC and declared it as one of its national core interests.

Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong meets U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1972.

Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong meets U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1972.

In 1972, then U.S. President Richard Nixon went to China and held talks with Mao. Relations between the two countries warmed up and in 1979 the U.S., under the presidency of Jimmy Carter, established formal diplomatic relations with the PRC and severed ties with Taiwan. However, the U.S. Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act, which states that the U.S. must help Taiwan defend itself. To this day, the U.S. remains Taiwan’s main supplier of arms.

China’s emergence as an economic power – second only to the U.S. today – may be attributed to its entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). The U.S. saw China as one of the fastest growing markets of American goods and services; thus, endorsed China’s admission into the WTO in 2001. Hence began China’s economic miracle.

Chinese Dream

First and Second Island Chains.

First and Second Island Chains.

In my column, “Chinese Dream: Beyond the First Island Chain” (December 1, 2013), I wrote: “Admiral Liu Huaqing, the mastermind of China’s modern naval strategy, was quoted as saying in 1982 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.

In the 35 years since then, the Chinese Dragon has set its eyes on the East and South China Seas. In 1974, after China defeated Vietnam in a naval battle in the Paracel Islands, China established de facto control over the Paracel Islands.

American flag is lowered as the Philippine flag is raised.

American flag is lowered as the Philippine flag is raised.

In 1991, the Philippine Senate rejected the renewal of the U.S. bases. The American forces left the following year. Their departure created a power vacuum in the South China Sea.

In 1995, China took possession of the Mischief (Panganiban) Reef in the Spratly archipelago, which the Philippines claimed as part of its exclusive Economic zone (EEZ). Consequently, China grabbed Subi Reef, which is just a few miles from the Philippine-controlled Pag-Asa Island. With a navy with no warships and an air force with no warplanes, the Philippines was left at the mercy of the Chinese Dragon.

In 2012, after several months of standoff between the Chinese and Philippine coast guards, China took de facto possession of the Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal, which is within the Philippines’ EEZ.

Chinese builds artificial island at Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly archipelago.

Chinese builds artificial island at Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly archipelago.

The following year, China started building artificial islands in the Spratly islands. Today, seven of these man-made islands were fitted with runways, harbors, and buildings. Recent satellite images show that radars and surface-to-air missiles have been installed in most of them.

Uncle Sam vs. Chinese Dragon

U.S. versus China.

U.S. versus China.

Last year, China started building its first overseas military base in Djibouti, which is strategically located at the mouth of Gulf of Aden into the Red Sea. Purportedly built as a logistical base for fighting piracy in the region, the Chinese naval base is just a few miles to Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, which is one of the U.S.’s largest and most important foreign bases. With the two rival bases closely situated to one another, one wonders if the Chinese base’s primary purpose were to monitor activities at Camp Lemonnier. One might say, “The Chinese Dragon has come too close for comfort.” Indeed.

One wonders, how did all these happen? Why didn’t the U.S. stop China from building these artificial islands? Could it be because Uncle Sam was still licking its wounds after the Philippines kicked the U.S, bases out? Did then President Barack Obama purposely appease the Chinese Dragon to punish the Philippines for evicting the U.S. bases? But instead Obama kept repeating that the U.S. remains neutral in the territorial disputes between the Philippines and China.

But on a similar situation in the Senkaku Islands, which Japan administers and China claims, the U.S. went on record that any attack on the Senkakus would be defended by Japanese and U.S. forces under their Security Treaty.

The difference between the Philippines and Japanese defense treaties with the U.S. is that the U.S. has 50,000 military personnel stationed in Japan in addition to a forward naval operating base and several air bases scattered around Japan. In the case of the Philippines, there are none except for a small contingent of about 100 special operations personnel who are helping the Philippines in combating terrorists in Mindanao.

EDCA

Five Philippine military bases where U.S. forces will be deployed.

Five Philippine military bases where U.S. forces will be deployed.

With the ascension of left-leaning Rodrigo Duterte to the presidency in 2016, the security situation in the Philippines changed with Duterte establishing close economic, political, defense relationships with China. Duterte had openly admitted that he is appeasing China because the Philippines doesn’t have any chance of winning a war against the Chinese Dragon. It is the same situation with Japan; however, the difference is that Uncle Sam has Japan’s back while Duterte has given Uncle Sam the middle finger and called Obama, “Son of a whore!”

Benham Rise

 

 Benham Rise.

Benham Rise.

In the short time that Duterte has been playing ‘footsie” with the Chinese, openly admitting that he’ll never go to war against them, the Chinese Dragon is spreading its foothold into Philippine territories. 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.

During a press conference last March 10, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said that the Philippines can explore and develop the natural resources in Benham Rise as a sovereign right but she cannot take the region as her own territory.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) sought clarification on what Geng said. In response, the Chinese informed DFA that they recognize the Philippines’ sovereign rights and they are not disputing Benham Rise.”

Although China backed off, it’s a red flag about China’s ultimate goal. All we have to do is go back to Admiral Liu’s “naval strategy” that he laid out in 1982. “The PLA Navy must be ready to challenge US domination over the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean in 2040,” he said. Well, he’s not too far behind in his timetable. With virtual control over the South China Sea, the Chinese Dragon is stealthily waving its way out of the First Island Chain into the Western Pacific and beyond.

Obama might have realized at the end of his presidency that appeasement or using “soft power” approach in dealing with the Chinese Dragon was a tactical mistake. Duterte is beginning to realize it too that appeasement is not going to work. He should take cue from U.S. President Donald Trump whose mantra, ”Peace through strength,” keeps the Chinese Dragon at bay. However, one should – nay, must! – be vigilant. As Sun Tzu wrote in his “The Art of War” 2,500 years ago, “In war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.” Appeasement is a sign of weakness and should be avoided at all cost. Yes, there is no substitute for strength.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

EDSA 2 People Power Revolution.

EDSA 2 People Power Revolution.

In the past two decades, impeachment – or the threat of it — has become the most common method of removing constitutional officers from office. It is a two-step “political” process that begins in the House of Representatives and ends in the Senate. Removal from office occurs when the House impeaches a public official by one-third vote of the House and followed by conviction by two-third majority of the Senate sitting as judges.

The first and only president to be impeached was Joseph “Erap” Estrada who was impeached by the House of Representatives in November 2000 on charges of bribery and corruption. However, the Senate failed to convict and remove him from office because he was ousted in what is now referred to as EDSA 2 People Power revolution, which elevated then Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to the presidency.

 Renato Corona’s Senate impeachment trial.

Renato Corona’s Senate impeachment trial.

So far, only one public official – the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona – was impeached, convicted, and removed from office. But it was revealed later that the senator-judges reached a decision to convict Corona after they allegedly received bribes from then President Benigno Aquino III in the form of pork barrel allocations.

Another public official – former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez – was impeached by the House but she avoided a Senate trial by resigning from her position in a deal she struck with Aquino.

But while impeachment worked with non-elective constitutional officers, it has yet to successfully remove an elected constitutional officer – i.e., president and vice president – from office. Take the case of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who faced impeachment complaints just about every year during her presidency. It could have been more but the constitution allows only one impeachment complaint to be filed each year against the same person. Many believe that in the case of Arroyo, weak impeachment complaints were filed against her by her allies in the House to preempt legitimate complaints from being filed. It worked!

Pork barrel

Former President Benigno Aquino III (R) and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad (L).

Former President Benigno Aquino III (R) and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad (L).

In the case of Aquino, he was spared from impeachment because of massive pork barrel allocations – officially called Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) — totaling P62.5 billion that he used to keep his House allies happy. Why would they get rid of the goose that lay golden eggs for them?

In addition, Aquino had a humongous pork barrel known as the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) that amounted to P157 billion. The controversial DAP, the brainchild of Aquino’s Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. PDAF was also deemed partially illegal and was also stopped by the High Court.

It is interesting to note that 325 House of Representatives members and 17 senators were allegedly the beneficiaries of his presidential dole-outs. However, only three opposition senators – Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Ramon Revilla – were charged and detained. Now, you can see why Aquino was untouchable and immune from impeachment. However, there are still some of Aquino’s political enemies who’d like to see him imprisoned for corruption in handling the PDAF and DAP funds.

Impeach Duterte

Rep. Gary Alejano of the Magdalo party-list group filed the first impeachment complaint against President Duterte.

Rep. Gary Alejano of the Magdalo party-list group filed the first impeachment complaint against President Duterte.

But that has been placed in the back burner for now because of new attempts to impeach both President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo. Duterte lashed out at Robredo and Senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Leila de Lima, accusing them of being behind the move to impeach him.

Last March 16, Rep. Gary Alejano of the Magdalo party-list group filed the first impeachment complaint against Duterte for allegedly “pursuing a state policy of extrajudicial killings and amassing more than P2 billion in bank deposits.” He accused Duterte of culpable violation of the Constitution, bribery, graft and corruption, betrayal of public trust and committing other high crimes, which are the grounds for impeachment under the Constitution. Incidentally, Alejano is a former marine captain and a colleague of Trillanes who led the Oakwood mutiny against Arroyo in 2003.

Alejano claimed that in just over eight months in office, Duterte’s “war on drugs” has resulted in the gangland-style killings and executions – known as “salvaging” — of more than 8,000 individuals.

Impeach Robredo

Former Senator Bongbong Marcos and Vice President Leni Robredo.

Former Senator Bongbong Marcos and Vice President Leni Robredo.

Robredo, on the other hand, said that defeated vice presidential candidate and former Senator Bongbong Marcos has a hand in the filing of impeachment complaints against her. Two impeachment complaints have thus far been filed against Robredo. The first was filed by known Marcos “loyalists” Oliver Lozano and Melchor Chavez, accusing her of having “committed acts of injustice” when she spread “fake news” about the Philippines with her video message to the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs side event criticizing the administration’s war on drugs.

The second impeachment complaint is being prepared by a group of six lawyers who call themselves “Impeach Leni Team.” One of them is Bruce Rivera who represented the “pork barrel queen” Janet Lim Napoles in the serious illegal detention case against her.

With all these impeachment complaints taking center stage, one wonders if the government would be able to serve the people’s needs. Their pre-occupation with political wrangling and posturing could lead to destabilizing the government, which is already enmeshed in sovereignty issues over the Spratlys, Scarborough Shoal, and Benham Rise. A few days ago, Duterte was reported to have said “in jest” during a speech that he “believed China was seeking to turn his country into a province of theirs.” “They really want to make the Philippines a province of China,” he joked. But the joke could be on him because China has transformed the Philippines into an economic vassal state. And if Duterte doesn’t know it yet, then he deserved to be impeached.

As for Robredo, it is obvious that the impeachment complaints against her are all trumped-up charges and don’t have any legal or constitutional basis. How can one say that she violated the law and the constitution when the office of the vice president doesn’t have any governmental function? As they say, it’s just a “spare tire.”

At the end of the day, what we’re seeing in these impeachment complaints – just like before – are episodes of moro-moro, which is to entertain the people and lull them into forgetting the misery that their government inflicts on them.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)