Phl friendship with China, US

VIRTUAL REALITY - Tony Lopez - The Philippine Star

This week the Philippines and China mark the 48th year of formal diplomatic relations.

On June 9, 1975, President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos Sr. and China Premier Chou En-lai signed in Beijing the agreement to establish formal diplomatic relations. Manila began recognizing only one China, the one based in Beijing, and forthwith broke ties with Taiwan, the Nationalist China based in Taipei.

In 1975, China’s was the biggest communist party in the world. It still is.

In 1975, the Philippines was a staunch anti-communist country. At the same time, Marcos Sr. had begun to question the value of American bases, particularly Clark and Subic, on Philippine soil. Eventually, Marcos Sr. shortened the lease on the US bases from 99 to 25 years and demanded, and got, rental for the bases, in the billions of dollars.

Today, relations with China are strained. China has occupied at least six reefs in the South China Sea claimed by the Philippines as part of its territory or of its Exclusive Economic Zone – Cuarteron (Calderon Reef), Fiery Cross (Kagitingan), Gaven (Burgos), Hughes (McKennan), Mischief (Panganiban) and Subi (Zamora Reef). It has reclaimed the reefs and built fortifications, missile systems and air strips, making them strategic military bases.

In 2012, China seized Scarborough Shoal (Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag), a rock that is clearly part of Philippine territory, being just 120 nautical miles from Luzon. It is a rich fishing ground for  Filipino fishermen but is now guarded by a constant Chinese Coast Guard presence.

Of the six reefs, the largest in land expansion are: Mischief, 1,379 acres; Subic 976 acres and Fiery Cross, 677 acres – a total of 3,032 hectares of reclaimed land over which the Philippines has economic rights – the waters and any oil and minerals underneath, the land and the air above.  Makati is only 1,000 hectares. So the Chinese occupied reefs can house three Makati cities.

In response to Chinese development or depredations in the South China Sea in the reefs and rocks claimed by the Philippines, President Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos Jr. has made a sharp shift towards Washington. He has allowed access by US troops to four additional bases or bases sites in the Philippines, on top of the five previously authorized in 2014 by the BS Aquino III administration.

The sites disclosed last April 2023 are: the Camilo Osias navy base in Sta. Ana and Lal-lo airport, both in Cagayan province, and Camp Melchor dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela province and the island of Balabac off Palawan. Isabela and Cagayan face north to Taiwan.  Palawan is near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea where China has built artificial islands.

During President Marcos Jr.’s Washington visit in May this year, President Biden announced that any armed attack on any Philippine armed forces, vessels, aircraft, including those of the Philippine Coast Guard would be considered an armed attack on the US and the latter would respond correspondingly, subject to an act or concurrence by the US Congress.

Previously, the West Philippine Sea was not considered part of Philippine territory under the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951. The Philippines is the US’s only and oldest treaty ally in Asia.

According to a White House paper, “since 1951, the US-Philippines alliance has advanced peace, prosperity and security for the United States, the Philippines and the broader Indo-Pacific region.”

“Now the United States and the Philippines are modernizing the alliance and building a strong and resilient architecture that is designed to meet emerging challenges, while routinizing joint planning and improving interoperability,” said the paper.

On April 28, the Philippines and the US concluded their largest flagship bilateral military exercise, Balikatan, with 17,000 Filipino and American troops participating.

Manila and Washington are also expanding cooperation among their coast guards “to better address the challenges posed by illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and other unlawful maritime activities; when Vice President Harris visited Palawan in November 2022, she announced $7.5 million in new assistance to enhance the capabilities of Philippine maritime law enforcement agencies, as well as a new program to upgrade the Philippine Coast Guard’s vessel traffic management system.”

The four new sites pursuant to the US-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), the White House paper said, “will strengthen Philippine security and support the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ modernization goals, while driving US investment to local communities across the Philippines and improving our shared ability to rapidly deliver humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.”

Welcoming BBM at the White House last May, President Biden reaffirmed America’s ironclad alliance commitments to the Philippines.

Meanwhile, during his state visit in Beijing last January 2023, President Marcos Jr. underscored the importance of increasing trust and cooperation with China and other nations for economic growth and sustainable development.

In that visit, BBM witnessed the signing of 14 memoranda of agreement. “These will directly result in more funds for our country and more jobs for our people,” he added. Marcos secured $22.8 billion in investment pledges from Chinese investors.

Aside from these pledges, Marcos and China leader Xi Jinping agreed to establish a “direct communications line” on concerns related to the South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea to prevent any miscommunication between the two countries.

Marcos Jr. vowed that the Philippines would value Philippines-China relations even more than it did nearly five decades ago.

The President said in China: “We will continue to value the relationship between the Philippines and China more than we have done in the past few decades for the interest of our people, for the welfare of our people.”

He reiterated that he considers strengthening ties between the two countries as both a “responsibility” and a “privilege.”

So Mr. President:  Who is our friend? US, China, or both?

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