Amidst emerging geopolitics
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - September 3, 2020 - 12:00am

The conflict in the West Philippine Sea has intensified as China has increasingly become more aggressive. The United States and its allies have increased their military and naval presence in the region. The Americans have also added a new dimension to the conflict by exploiting their economic and financial strength.

Restrictions have been imposed on Chinese companies and individuals involved in Beijing’s aggressive actions. The US has increased the number of companies to its entities list which increases US export controls for companies supporting the militarization of China in the West Philippine Sea. The violation of Philippine sovereignty, as upheld by the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling, was specifically cited. Among those cited were China Communications Construction Company and its subsidiaries. The US also imposed a visa ban on Chinese nationals  found to be involved in the militarization, land reclamation or construction supporting Chinese outposts in these contested waters.

According to an analysis by Stratfor, a think tank: “The US export controls and visa restrictions are a response to China’s continued buildup of its military presence and infrastructure in the South China Sea, where Beijing has asserted sweeping claims that jeopardize freedom of navigation... Washington has been upping the frequency of its Western Pacific naval operations in recent months, expanding facilities and aiming to increase overall spending as part of its Pacific Deterrence Initiative.”

At the start, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs sounded like it was also considering joining the economic boycott  of those Chinese companies involved in building artificial islands and transforming them into potential naval and military bases. However, recently, President Duterte announced that the Philippines will not join any economic boycott of Chinese companies.

Among the largest companies that are on the American target are China National Offshore Oil Corporation due to its involvement in oil exploration in the South China Sea despite the objections of Vietnam and Malaysia. The other company is the China Harbour Engineering Company which has a major role in port construction across China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Rodger Baker, a geopolitical analyst, writes: “China is an empire in the modern sense – a nation strengthened but also held hostage by its long supply chain, compelled to ever greater economic and political intercourse to preserve its interests, and increasingly drawn into the security sphere as well. It uses its economic, political and military leverage to expand its own direct sphere of operations, from the South China Sea to India and across Central Asia into Europe. The more it is engaged internationally, the more dependent it is on maintaining and strengthening those connections which are critical for Chinese economic growth and, by extension, domestic management of its massive, diverse and economically unequal population.”

China is considered to be almost reaching its riskiest point  as a global power.The most dangerous time for a rising power, like China, is when it is strong enough to feel confident and arouse suspicion from rivals, but not yet powerful enough to ensure its intended new positions of power in the face of resistance. A dual sense of destiny and insecurity can lead to high levels of risk tolerance and, at times, self-fulfilling prophecies of international confrontation.

The challenge for China is that the fears of “China’s rise” are no longer being taken lightly. The changing power balance between China and the United States is no longer one that people can simply hope will not and cannot happen. Even the European Union is increasingly concerned by China’s economic and regulatory reach, and is taking steps to curtail Chinese investments in critical sectors.

The United States has abandoned its strategy of cajoling and working with China. It has now stepped up its drive to break its dependence on China for technology supply chains and is urging companies to leave China. The US Navy has also maintained a robust operational tempo along  the Chinese periphery and engaged in maritime exercises with several countries, including Japan and Australia, and paid a major port visit to Vietnam. Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. has publicly said that if China invades Philippine territory, he will ask the United States for assistance.

China seems increasingly concerned about the results of the US elections. A Biden victory could lead to a change in American international policy. There could be trans-Atlantic economic and political coordination as well as increased trans-Pacific economic and security coordination against China.

For a long time, since the Second World War, Japan has operated under an anti-war constitution. Its armed forces have been strictly defensive oriented. However, a growing more assertive China is accelerating Tokyo’s offensive capabilities.

Looking back on its contemporary history, Japan’s military core strategy was shaped by the Yoshida doctrine in which Japan largely outsourced its national security to the United States while focusing its energy on economic development at home. It should also be realized that Japan  is a resource poor country and very import dependent. It must protect the sea lanes that connect Japan to Europe, Africa and the United States.

Recently Japan, like the rest of the world, has become insecure about US commitment to its allies. Recently Japan has increased its economic and security engagement in the Indo-Pacific and the South China Sea.  Japan has also become a regional alternative to China.

Amidst all these geopolitical changes and challenges, the Philippines must seek the path that will provide the most benefits for the sovereignty of the Filipino people.

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An Invitation for Young Writers, ages 8-15:

Young Writers’ Hangout is on  Zoom on Sept.  12 & 26, 2-3pm. Contact  writethingsph@gmail.com.  0945.2273216

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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