Balikatan escalating tensions in the West Philippine Sea

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez - The Freeman

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to discern that what the US and the Philippines are going to do after the Holy Week, the annual Balikatan, will be understood by Xi JinPing as a provocation to push tension in the West Philippine Seas to the brink of World War III. The Chinese weren’t born yesterday.

Balikatan exercises used to be held inside Philippine military camps or in jungles. This time it will be held in the immediate vicinity of the contested territories. What is more, there will be live firing. American and Filipino and other forces shall actually fire and sink a sacrificial vessel some 12 to 22 nautical miles off the coast of Zambales or 185 kilometers from Panatag Shoal. Therefore, the planned arena is within the range of Bajo de Masinloc and other contested shoals and islets. You don’t have to be an expert in geopolitics to be able to project the far-reaching consequences of these maneuvers.

If you were among the military operatives of Beijing, wouldn’t you undertake preemptive intelligence operations to preposition Chinese agents in the target areas? The Chinese must have already deployed many spies all over the country disguised as POGO operators and others. The Japanese did those things prior to World War II. The Chinese already knew that Balikatan 2023 will deploy no less than 12,000 American troops and 5,000 troops or an unprecedented total of 17,000 from April 11 to 28. The joint forces are going to use a combination of naval and aviation weapons. The combined forces will be using for the very first time the highly powerful HIMARS or High Mobility Artillery Rocket System.

Retired Philippine Navy Commander Jude Ong explained that this year's Balikatan is obviously targeted to be a dress rehearsal for an actual confrontation in the West Philippine Sea. These exercises are going to test the combined capability of the allied forces and enhance the Philippines’ strategic deterrence posture. Also, the US is deploying 12,000 troops so as to review America's own capability to deploy a large number of troops within a short time in case of emergency in this region. Further, the vessel-sinking demo is intended to display the allied forces joint capability to defend the Philippine archipelago from any invasion or attack. The Chinese can comprehend that the "enemy" referred to here is China.

Moreover, the test firing last year of a US patriot missile was a show of force and a display of the allied forces' anti-war defense system. This will be repeated this year in order to send a clear message to the enemy that the allied forces are able to protect our territories, people, and all strategic infrastructures from conventional ballistic threats. All these joint exercises are justified under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) aside from the two countries' Mutual Defense Treaty. Other US allies like Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are now being urged by the US to show China it is being surrounded by forces allied with America and the Philippines. The nations that are friendly to China, on the other hand, are Russia, Iran, Syria, and North Korea.

The lines are being drawn. As ordinary citizens, we need to be conscious that when the US keeps on provoking China, this is very risky to the Philippines. This was the same situation that compelled Vladimir Putin to attack Ukraine, When the NATO countries started to surround Russia, the Kremlin, under a desperate Putin, was forced to make a preemptive attack against its former colony Ukraine. The Philippines has the potential to become the next Ukraine. When the elephants collide, a small mouse like our country is bound to be squeezed in between and trampled upon by the devastating collision of humongous combatants. History should remind us that whenever America wants to fight a war, it usually uses a third country as the war arena.

We should learn our lesson from World War II. It was a conflict between Japan and America. It was the Philippines that was pulverized. One million Filipinos were killed, our women were made sex slaves and until now no one has apologized. Balikatan is a very dangerous exercise. But do we have any choice? It might be the better option for Chinese hegemony in the Asia Pacific rim and making the Philippines another province of China. Do you have to be a genius to figure that out?


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