Letters to the Editor

Chinese aggression and the need for full return of the US to Subic and Clark military bases

Priscilla A. Tacujan, Ph.D., and Anders S. Corr, Ph.D. - The Philippine Star

China announced through the People’s Daily in June of a “counterstrike” against the Philippines if it continues to “provoke” Beijing. China has gone rogue, and is acting like Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany in the 1930s. With China militarily encroaching on the West Philippine Sea, there are three compelling reasons why the Philippines must seek stronger alliance with the US, including a full return to Subic Bay and Clark military bases: 1) the Philippines alone cannot defend against China; 2) the United States is the only country with the means and inclination to defend the Philippines; and 3) a peaceful international system depends upon strict adherence to the international law that China is breaking. To prevent Chinese aggression, the President, Senate and House should immediately take action to dramatically improve alliance relations and obtain the full return of the US to Subic and Clark.

Figure 1: China and Philippines: Military Expenditure and Energy Use, 1989-2011. Shortly after most US forces left the Philippines in 1991-2, Chinese military expenditure and aggression in the West Philippine Sea increased dramatically. Data source: Correlates of War Project.

The growing Chinese threat

China’s bogus 1953 nine-dash claim is a gross violation of the 200-mile nautical boundary set by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). China is capturing the West Philippine Sea island-by-island with ugly displays of raw military power and bilateral, deceitful, and unequal negotiations with its individually weaker neighbors.

China’s belligerence is explained by the power vacuum in the West Philippine Sea since US bases departed in 1992, and China’s exponentially increasing need for resources. China’s annual energy use ballooned from 800,000 to 2,400,000 kilo tonnes (kt) of oil equivalent between 1989 and 2010 (see graph). The West Philippine Sea has between 11 and 213 billion barrels of oil, and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. China has about 1,483,000 military personnel compared to about 165,000 in the Philippines.

Strengthening global alliances to balance China

Effective military balancing by the Philippines against China requires a bullet-proof military alliance of equal or greater combined force to that of China. Yet in 1999, US defense officials stated the US could not guarantee support in case of a Philippines-China conflict over the West Philippine Sea. The Philippines needs such a promise, and in exchange must convincingly welcome US military bases. Half-measures such as bilateral cooperation with the US on terrorism and training, or temporary refueling or basing rights for US naval vessels, will not convince US voters to support the Philippines in case of conflict with China -- this requires a Chinese threat to US bases serving as a tripwire in the Philippines.

Getting the US to spend the billions of dollars necessary to return will require compromise. The US can reasonably ask for: 1) removal of any legal obstacles to establishing bases and defending the Philippines, 2) a minimum 10- or 20-year lease, 3) and a Visiting Forces Agreement that provides for US personnel to be tried by US courts. In turn, the Philippines will need: 4) rental fees of perhaps $400 million annually; 5) a promise of rigorous prosecution of legal violations committed by US troops; 6) Philippine regulatory oversight of off-base entertainment to combat prostitution and drug-peddling; 7) job opportunities for Filipinos inside US bases; 8) frequent community town-halls and events; and 9) provision of medical and educational programs in communities near bases. To the extent that the Philippines seeks a better deal, it should remember that the US will be risking war with China to protect Philippine sovereignty.

The Philippine President, Senate and House of Representatives should immediately pass bills welcoming US bases to the Philippines, including Subic and Clark. With concurrence of the Senate, House and if necessary, a referendum of the people, a ratified treaty to return US bases will comply with the Constitution. Hundreds of US military bases protect the sovereignty of host nations worldwide. Similar bases in the Philippines would be neither imperialism nor a threat to Philippine sovereignty. Politicians and businessmen who claim the contrary are likely corrupted by Chinese money, influence, favors or business dealings. Overcoming this influence and returning the bases will require foresight, patriotism and statesmanship of the highest order.

Dr. Priscilla Tacujan and Dr. Anders Corr are affiliated with Corr Analytics Inc., a New York-based political risk consultancy. This piece is based on research in their article, “Chinese Political and Economic Influence in the Philippines: Implications for Alliances and the South China Sea Dispute,” published in the Journal of Political Risk, New York, August 2013.

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