Hilarious disconnect with reality

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A NEW YouTube channel authored by a dubious outfit that calls itself “Asean Analytics” was recently launched as another of the US’ many propaganda venues against China, exploiting the superpower’s territorial and maritime-entitlement disputes with the Philippines to demonize it as an aggressor in the South China Sea.

Recently, it posted a video entitled “How modern the Philippine military:Enough to protect the West Philippine Sea.” However, “Asean Analytics” is a fake news outfit.

It does not have any connection at all with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, but pretends to be so by using Asean’s name and logo, a trick to give it credibility. It says it “aims of promote Asean tourism and deliver information about the economy and development within the Asean and neighboring nations.” But it hasn’t posted its own videos on these topics.

It is really another of the many US propaganda venues to demonize China, and push the Philippines into being belligerent towards the superpower. By pretending to be an Asean unit it calculates that gullible writers will think it is a legitimate channel, and repeat in mainstream media its misinformation. It also confuses readers into thinking that Asean supports the Philippines’ hostile stance against China over the two countries’ territorial and maritime-entitlement disputes in the South China Sea. (Asean hasn’t and has remained neutral over these issues.)

For instance, two of its recent videos are entitled “Oil and Gas Deposit in South China Sea China wants to control” and “PH Exclusive Economic Zone Controlled by China.” These claims are totally without basis. Most analysts have dismissed that 1970s idea that the South China Sea has huge commercial oil and gas deposits, and even if it has, it is expensive for China to extract it and transport it at least a thousand kilometers to the mainland. China’s hydrocarbon reserves are in its more accessible northwest areas (e.g., in Xinjiang) and these are equivalent to 5.4 times its annual consumption.

In fact what triggered the tensions between the Philippines and China was the foiled attempt in 2011 by a consortium led by PXP Energy (formerly Philex Petroleum) to explore for gas in the Reed Bank, without informing the Chinese, which claims the area as a part of its sovereign territory. After that, PXP Energy head Manuel Pangilinan tried to woo the Chinese to agree to a joint exploration venture. That fell through however because after the PXP Energy vessel was shooed away by the Chinese, President Benigno Aquino 3rd – who apparently felt insulted by it – adopted a belligerent stance against China, first by ordering his Coast Guard and BRP Gregorio del Pilar to arrest Chinese fishermen at Scarborough Shoal

China doesn’t control the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. It only claims (and occupied since 1988) as its sovereign territory a part of our EEZ that encompasses the Spratly islands as well as Scarboorugh Shoal. This area is just 1.7 percent of the Philippines ‘ EEZ of 2.2 million square kilometers.

Asean Analytics’ recent video reports several of the Philippine military’s recent orders to increase its capability: “three C-130J-30 Super Hercules tactical airlifters for delivery in 2026, two BrahMos missile units from India; more Acero-class gunboats next year under a deal with Israel; two new landing dock platforms from Indonesia next year; two corvettes from South Korea around in 2025 and 2026; and six offshore patrol vessels, also from South Korea in 2028. Horizon 3 requires P500 billion spread out over the next six years.”

Modernization

According to a transcript of the video, “the Philippine military is realigning its modernization program to strengthen territorial and coastal defense amid escalating tensions with China. AFP Chief Brawner said changes are geared toward protecting the country’s territories in the South China Sea.” The Asean Analytics report even pointed out “the Philippines can also develop its own shipbuilding industry to ensure that the AFP will have the capability to secure the country and its territorial waters from piracy, terrorism and encroachment.”

The video’s message is that the Philippines is on the way, with the help of its allies in developing its military might to assert its control of its claims in the South China Sea which China has been denying it. It is prodding us to continue our belligerent stance against the superpower, as it has and will be getting enough military capability to challenge China.

This of course has also been the message of this administration, with a recent government press release on the passing of the national appropriations bill for this year “assuring the nation that the 2024 national budget includes funds for the robust defense of the West Philippine Sea.”

This view is such a wide disconnect with reality. The delusion borders on the hilarious since we are the most confrontational among claimant-countries against China even as we have the weakest military among the claimants. We are far, far from developing our military strength “for the robust defense of the West Philippine Sea.”

With pictures worth a thousand words, images 1 and 2 are from a US Defense Department’s report entitled “Asia-Pacific; Maritime Security Strategy.” (While the data is from 2015, the relative sizes of their navies are unchanged.)

Images 1 (top) and 2 (above).

The charts show that China by far has the largest navy and maritime-enforcement vessels in the region. We have the smallest force, in fact even smaller than those of Indonesia and Malaysia.

Even by 2030, according to estimates by experts at the US Foreign Policy Institute (in its report “Southeast Asian Naval Modernization and Hedging Strategies”), we will still have the smallest naval force in the region, with only 28 vessels and two submarines, with Indonesia, for instance, having 80 vessels and 8 submarines.

It would probably take at least two decades, if ever, for us to have a naval force a fourth of that of China today. The Chinese of course will continue to increase its naval forces, financed by its huge economy. It took decades and enor mous resources made available by the size and productivity of China’s economyto build its huge military strength. The phenomenal growth of China’s military to even rival the US is due the unprecedented growth of its economy, which grew at an average 9.3 percent from 1973 to 2010, three times that of the US’ 2.9 percent and twice that of our 3.8 percent.

9 percent

To even plan for us to have a Navy and Coast Guard strong enough to challenge those of China in the disputed areas, our economy would have to grow at least at an average of 9 percent. Given our lack of central leadership, and absence of a plan to jump-start our economy, that is impossible. And of course, we cannot divert resources to the really more important tasks of developing our infrastructure, modernizing agriculture, subsidizing key industries and undertaking projects to reduce poverty.

What our leaders are ignorant about is that military strength is, with a few exceptions, a function of economic strength. Thus, the US, Russia, China, India and the UK are both the richest nations on earth at the same time that they have the biggest military forces. In terms of military strength, we are ranked 32nd; in terms of economic output, 34th.

But we have the US as an ally, still the world’s prime superpower, our little brown Americans would say. But the US helping us militarily against China is really inconceivable: This will lead to a global nuclear war destroying not just the US and China but the world. I don’t think any American or Chinese government will decide that control of Ayungin Shoal or even the entire Spratlys is worth risking the destruction of civilization by nuclear war.

There’s even bad news: If the US and China, by some miracle agree not to use nuclear weapons, the outcome is not certain. Image 3 shows the two superpowers’ naval assets: Except for aircraft carriers and destroyers, China has more naval assets.

Image 3.

Then what do we do, if we cannot fight China? Then don’t fight with it, don’t let the US use us as its pawn in fighting with the superpower. Vietnam – the second biggest claimant in the Spratlys — already provides us with a template on how to do this (“SCS rival claimant Vietnam draws closer to China, PH demonizes, quarrels with it,” Dec. 15, 2023).


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