IN order to prevent the rise of China as the hegemonic power in Asia, the US has been maneuvering to make the Philippines its “Asian Ukraine” — that is, its proxy to provoke the Asian superpower to undertake aggressive actions against us or even the US Navy, in order to demonize it as the Evil Empire of the region.
Make no mistake about it: I condemn Russia’s near-genocidal war against Ukraine, a country poorer than us, killing tens of thousands of civilians and destroying Ukrainian homes and infrastructure that would take them as least half a century to rebuild. There is just no excuse for such horror inflicted on a country.
However there is consensus among Western scholars and observers that the US had provoked Russia, which calculated that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s moves to make his country a member of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) represented the last stages of its encirclement by the West.
That would have meant that the military machines of the 30 NATO members that include the US, Great Britain and Germany, could be deployed at Russia’s neighbor, Ukraine.
It was the culmination of a long covert operation by the US, which had maneuvered in 2014, through “civil society” agitation supported by such US NGOs such as the National Endowment for Democracy (which had been funding anti-Duterte media such as Rappler) the removal of a pro-Russian president Victor Yanukovych.
What the US had not expected was that Vladimir Putin decided to wager everything and invade Ukraine, expecting its people to embrace Russia as they did in Crimea in 2014. What Putin had not expected though was that Zelenskyy, an actor and comedian before going into politics, would be able to rally his people to a heroic fight against Russia, with the US and the West managing to channel quite easily the necessary war materiel to the Ukrainians.
While the war’s ultimate outcome is still uncertain, it has damaged Russia’s economy as a result of the resources it had to expend for the war effort, and the sanctions imposed on by the West, which for instance reduced its revenues from natural gas and crude oil, its main export.
This could be a repeat of the fall of the Soviet Union which was to a great extent due to the economic quagmire resulting from its efforts to match President Reagan’s purported hi-tech “Star Wars” defense system, which the US, it turned out, had exaggerated.
More importantly, whatever the war’s outcome would be though, Russia has lost any high moral ground to claim to be a benign superpower to compete with the US. The Americans are also expecting that if he loses the war, Putin will lose all prestige in Russia that he will be overthrown, opening that country to America’s well-developed social technologies for imposing its brand of democracy, which of course would install a pro-Western leader.
Russia will be out of the running as a hegemonic power in the Western Hemisphere; Ukraine has done its job for the US.
That leaves China as the sole emerging hegemonic power, this time in the Eastern Hemisphere.
Why can’t the US stand another superpower emerging?
A report of the US Congressional Research Service in 2014 (during the flare-up of China-Philippine tensions over the Spratlys) quoted at length an explanation by John J. Mearsheimer, a respected American scholar on international relations:
“If a distant great power were to dominate Asia or Europe the way America dominates the Western Hemisphere, it would then be free to roam around the globe and form alliances with countries in the Western Hemisphere that have an adversarial relationship with the United States…Thus, American policy makers have a deep-seated interest in preventing another great power from achieving regional hegemony in Asia or Europe… The United States should make sure it remains the most powerful country on the planet, which means making sure a rising China does not dominate Asia the way the United States dominates the Western Hemisphere.”
While China has territorial and maritime-rights disputes in the South China Sea with other countries too, most especially Vietnam, the Philippines, because of its Americanized elite and with its past leaders having the US as their patron, is the most vulnerable to become Asia’s Ukraine, that is, the US proxy for demonizing China as an aggressive power and as a forward military base against the Asian superpower.
In fact, President Aquino 3rd’s 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the Americans which President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has expanded by giving them access to four more of our military camps, was almost entirely patterned after similar agreements the US had made with Eastern European countries in its move to encircle Russia. These were the Americans’ “defense cooperation agreements” with Romania in 2007 and with Bulgaria in 2006.
Bulgaria agreed to allow the US to use four of its military bases, Romania three. The Philippines has allowed the US to use nine bases.
The issue the US has been exploiting to draw the Philippines to its ranks has been our territorial and maritime-rights disputes in the Spratlys. Both the local and international media it has controlled had been mobilized, especially during the Aquino 3rd administration, to spread lies over the dispute, and over the ruling of the arbitration panel on the dispute it shepherded.
I have explained in detail in my 2022 book Debacle: The Aquino Regime’s Scarborough Fiasco and the South China Sea Arbitration, how the Americans accelerated its campaign against China using the Spratlys dispute starting in 2009. This was under the conceptual umbrella of President Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” policy, which was practically an announcement that the US would strengthen its hegemony in Asia, which necessarily means the weakening of China’s influence in the region.
Invoking the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty, and allowing the US Navy to escort our coast guard in patrols in the Spratlys region — which is recognized by the world, even by the Americans, as disputed territory — will provoke China to move. From its viewpoint (just as in Vietnam’s), its sovereignty over this area had been established even before the modern era, and affirmed through Chinese actions and laws, while the Philippines claimed it only in the 1970s through the dictator Marcos’s one-man decree.
Having joint patrols by Filipino and US naval warships in the Spratlys would be as if, from the US perspective, the Cubans allowed Russian warships to patrol its coastlines. We all know where that could lead.
If we were to become Asia’s Ukraine, it is very unlikely though that we would be invaded by China, as that would automatically invoke US military succor, since the Mutual Defense Treaty categorically says that it will defend the Philippines if a foreign force attacks our “metropolitan territory.” That could then lead to nuclear war.
Instead China’s retaliation would be in the form of the following two ways:
First, it would, as that adage on geopolitics goes, establish truth (of its sovereignty) on the ground. As it did in 2014 when the Philippines filed the arbitration case that would have (but didn’t) declared the reefs it controls as illegitimately held, China will transform Scarborough Shoal it now completely controls into another of artificial islands, on which it will build its facilities. It would avoid any military encounter by occupying any of the other nine features (other than Pag-asa Island) in the Kalayaan Island Group that the Philippines says it controls but has been unable to station troops and build facilities in.
As it did in May 2014, Chinese vessels will simply maneuver, without firing a shot, to stop the delivery of supplies to the marine platoon living in our makeshift facility, the rusting BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal, starving them that no amount of patriotism would prevent them from abandoning the post. The Chinese would then move in, build their facilities, even on reclaimed land there, with its resources for doing so ready at its massive Mischief Reef facility just 40 kilometers away.
Do you think we can ask the US for help to prevent these Chinese actions, invoking the Mutual Defense Treaty?
Second, China would gradually reduce their trade with us. This would be more devastating than an invasion. The Philippines accounts for only 2 percent of the superpower’s total trade. China is now the Philippines’ largest trading partner, accounting for 21 percent of our total exports and imports.
That means the Chinese would probably not even notice if China’s trade with the Philippines stopped overnight. For Filipinos, though, it would be devastating on all levels. Go to any grocery or department store and one would find most items made in China, rather than in Japan or the US, from slippers to canned meat and recently, onions. The masses depend on cheap Chinese products for much of their needs.
Recently, if not for the onions quickly imported from China, we probably would have had the first Onion Revolution in the world. Even the middle classes will be hit: China for instance accounts for the Philippines’ biggest supplier of cellphones and telecom equipment. The Chinese, with even their huge middle and lower middle classes awash with cash in recent years, have become the second biggest tourists after Koreans, totaling 1.7 million. The likes of Boracay and Mall of Asia will soon be ghost towns.
As important as reduced trade with China is the fact that a drastic deterioration in Philippine-China relations would be a disincentive to foreign investments. This comes at the worst time as US and European companies have started to move out of China, not just because of rising wages for the white-collar workers but because of perceptions that its on-and-off tiffs with the US have become risky for such companies as Apple and other hi-tech manufacturers.
Now do we really want these? And at the time when most economists and billionaires (and even Elon Musk) are forecasting a recession within the next two years?
At the very least, President Marcos should have consulted our purported representatives in Congress, or even invoked a Council of State representing the entire political spectrum, before taking us on the road to becoming Asia’s Ukraine.
Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao