In dealing with bullies, the bullied has a few options – ignore the bullying, stand his ground, bargain with the bully, hang out with bigger kids so the bully would hesitate to harass him or call his bigger brother to protect him.
Having been bullied by big neighbor China for years, the Philippines tried the first three options obviously without success, and so is now willing to try the last two. Last week, the Philippine government made friends with neighbor Japan and basically called on big brother United States in apparent efforts to stave off Chinese bullying.
Last week, Japan pledged to help the Philippines defend its “remote islands” as it joined the Philippines in expressing concern over China’s robust moves to stake its claims to disputed Asian waters.
“We agreed that we will further cooperate in terms of the defense of remote islands… the defense of territorial seas as well as protection of maritime interests,” Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said. “We face a very similar situation in the East China Sea of Japan. The Japan side is very concerned that this kind of situation in the South China Sea could affect the situation in the East China Sea.”
In February, Japan had pledged to turn over 10 new patrol boats to the Philippines in 18 months. Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said that the Philippines favors a re-armed Japan to help counter-balance China’s emerging superiority.
The Philippines and Japan share a common concern over China’s aggressive behavior in the South and East China Sea. China has claimed virtually the entire South China Sea and has been slowly gobbling up the tiny islets very close to the Philippines which are perceived to be rich in mineral and marine resources.
Meanwhile, tension between China and Japan has escalated over competing claims to the Japanese-held Senkaku islands, which Beijing calls the Diaoyus, in the East China Sea.
Both countries have intensified diplomatic efforts to win the support of neighboring nations, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and India, among others, in apparent attempt to boost their opposition to China’s bullying.
They have aggressively sought explicit pledge of support of the United States for their defense in case the conflict with China escalates into a military confrontation.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, in a statement that coincided with the joint US-Philippine military exercises near the disputed areas in the South China Sea, said the country is willing to grant access to former US military bases in the Philippines and would welcome access by other allied powers such as Japan.
The new Chinese leaders are falling into a mistake that the late Communist Party Chairman Mao Tse-tung warned about – military adventurism. Blinded by its newfound economic and military strength, China is recklessly brandishing its brute power to force small neighboring nations into submission in the dispute in the South China Sea and elsewhere.
While I remain opposed to giving permanent bases to the US or any other foreign power, I must agree with Secretary Gazmin that the Philippines needs the help of US and Japan in dealing with China, and must, therefore, allow the two allies to gain access to Subic, Clark and other former military bases in their operations to counter-balance China’s military strength while the country is trying to build its own military capability.
The Philippines must continue to be vigilant against any attempt by China to encroach on its territory, but it must accept the fact that it cannot stand alone against the emerging superpower China. The country needs to ally with other neighbors in ASEAN and with strong countries such as US and Japan to repulse China’s imperialist tendencies.
China was obviously concerned with the newly formed alliances. Even as its mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, warned that a “counterstrike” against the Philippines was inevitable if it continues to provoke Beijing in the South China Sea, China agreed the next day to hold formal talks with the Southeast Asian Nations on a plan to ease maritime tensions and discuss a possible code of conduct in the disputed seas.
Secretary Del Rosario had just accused China of causing “increasing militarization” of the South China Sea.
The countries that China has been bullying will almost certainly start arming themselves and may even consider reviving the military defense alliance Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) of the 1960s with the support of US and Japan.
China should take heed of Chairman Mao’s warning about military adventurism and reconsider its military aggressiveness in the region before the emerging economies of Asia embark on their own aggressive military buildup that could turn the region into a powder keg, instead of a booming economic bastion.