A US pivot, finally?

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

The US is partly to blame for the belligerent China that is a threat to peace in our region. The Americans have terribly miscalculated their China posture.

When Deng Xiaoping said “to be rich is glorious,” the Americans presumed that the joys of capitalism will eventually make the Chinese reject communism and stop being a threat to democracies. But it just took one traditional Communist hardliner, Xi Jinping, to turn back the clock.

In fairness to US policymakers, the idea seemed plausible. In 2022, Forbes reported that China has the second highest number of US dollar billionaires at 539. Chinese entrepreneurs rode the technology boom and became fabulously rich.

Then, Xi Jinping decided to show the billionaires who is the boss. He called for common prosperity. That means, Chinese billionaires cannot be outrageously rich while hundreds of millions of other Chinese are barely getting out of poverty.

As the first show of force, the $37 billion IPO of Ant Financial of Jack Ma was pulled off at the last minute. His Alibaba was also hit with a $2.8 billion fine for abusing its dominant market position.

That was after Ma gave a speech in Shanghai, chiding Chinese financial regulators for stifling innovation. That’s how he crossed the line.

Ma, with his now reduced worth of $24.8 billion, should consider himself lucky he didn’t end up in jail. He resurfaced in Tokyo where he now lives.

So much for China abandoning communism for capitalism. China is back to the Maoist era, except that they are now rich enough to challenge the US and make trouble in our part of the world.

The problem with China is, it looks down on its neighbors.

Some years ago, I wrote from Singapore about an article published by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies touching on our problems with China. The narrative and the insights of Amitav Acharya, a visiting professorial fellow of the Institute from the American University in Washington DC are particularly revealing.

Acharya recalls that during the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Hanoi in 2010, US State Secretary Hillary Clinton announced that the South China Sea was one of America’s core interests.

That statement, according to Acharya, provoked rough talk from her Chinese counterpart, who is supposed to have looked at Singapore’s then Foreign Minister George Yeo and said, “China is a big country and other countries are small countries and that’s just a fact.”

Spoken like the regional bully that China has become! That statement has been the hallmark of China’s policy towards its neighbors in Southeast Asia. Gloves off, charm offensive ended, China will get what it wants by whatever way it can just because it can. Wolf warrior diplomacy is on.

This is why America’s almost frantic efforts to strengthen defenses against Chinese aggression in the region is timely and welcome. Even if it is interpreted as preparing for war, it is perhaps the best way to prevent war.

While America was busy in Afghanistan and Iraq, China had been investing heavily in its military and is now a regional threat. Nothing stops a potential aggressor country than seeing adequate defenses being made against adventurism.

The then president Barack Obama saw China’s rising power and he announced a pivot to our region in terms of America’s attention, diplomatically and militarily. Unfortunately, Obama’s 2012 pivot to East Asia didn’t get far. Hopefully, this new pivot is different.

The Philippines gets little respect from China. China’s Coast Guard routinely shoos our fishermen away from parts of the West Philippine Sea that is within our exclusive economic zone.

China is a difficult country to trust. Here is a country that draws nine dashes around a body of water in a map and claims all that area is theirs. It does not abide with the rule of international law, even one that it had previously signed.

Experts say there are no grounds under UNCLOS for China to claim sovereignty beyond 12 nautical miles from any island within the U-shaped line. China is claiming historic rights, but there is no mention of historic rights in UNCLOS except to areas within territorial waters of an archipelagic state, and China is not one.

China has prevented us from developing potential natural gas deposits within our exclusive economic zone. Its naval militia disguised as fishing vessels have been active in our area.

Vietnam has the same problems with China, except that Vietnam is more assertive of their rights. Indonesia has also taken a strong stand, even blasting Chinese fishing vessels that intrude in their economic zone.

Unfortunately, Duterte allowed China to make him believe that he can barter our sovereignty with Chinese dole outs. In the end, Duterte didn’t even get China’s promised economic assistance. China took Duterte for a fool.

Now, President Marcos, has said he “cannot see the Philippines in the future without having the United States as a partner.” That’s a welcome relief.

Actually, we don’t have a choice. Those who say we should stay neutral do not realize that deciding to be neutral is making a choice to be on China’s side.

The new agreement with the US to station military equipment and build facilities in nine locations across the Philippines should help deter Chinese adventurism. This covers a big gap in our defense, our lack of modern military equipment.

In a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, we are almost immediately dragged in whether the Americans have bases here or not. Our northernmost, inhabited island of Itbayat is just 93 miles away.

The last time China threatened Taiwan after the Pelosi visit, it held military exercises around the island, including the Bashi Channel, a waterway separating Taiwan and the Philippines. That made it clear if war were to break out over Taiwan, the Philippines would be a battleground.

The US will have access to our military bases for logistics — storing fuel, ammunition, spare parts and equipment. That’s crucial as good logistics win wars.

For now, we simply have to make China realize that with the American presence, there are military resources within our territory that can give them more than a bloody nose if they try anything.



Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco



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