Saturday, June 25, 2011

Proxy War and Gunboat Diplomacy

Proxy War and Gunboat Diplomacy
By Erick A. San Juan

Overheard over the radio, some pundit’s comments on how diplomacy is currently working to avoid any conflict in the South China Sea. Diplomats are actually using rhetorics, doublespeak and play of words. As if the world, especially the media are being taken on a whirlwind ride on what to report and to believe from the statements coming from the different camps involved in the issue surrounding the SCS disputes. If that is how the “game” is being played, are we going to get along with it as long as we know how to benefit from it?

Like in the case of Olongapo City where the Mayor himself, our good friend James Gordon is once again open to the idea that his city should take advantage of the impending 40 percent US military buildup in the Pacific and make Subic be home again of the American forces.

To quote : “There’s nothing wrong with the bases. If you are talking about $15 billion in investments, if you are the mayor of a city and you are visited by the appropriations committee chairman and vice chairman of the US Senate, I guess you would entice them (in)to coming here.” (Source: The Subic Examiner 6.15.2011)

We wrote last May 2 (Testing the Water Might Lead to Its Boiling Point which can be read from of the so-called visit of the two senior US senators and how the different sectors of our society have speculated the possible return of the US bases, particularly in Subic. Accusations from the various sectors came out of how the visit was shrouded with secrecy of its real motive.

Coming from the Mayor himself, he said - “Do you think the Pentagon will tell us what their strategy is? Of course not. But why are they visiting, why would the chairman and vice chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee visit Subic on a special flight?” he asked.

Gordon said the plane that took Inouye to Subic also landed in Guam but the senator did not step down from the aircraft there. “Here, they looked at the seaport and the airport,” he said. “Can you read between the lines?” (Ibid)

He was sure with his statements because the interview was done after he returned from his US trip and that according to him, some US officials informed him of the planned military buildup in the Pacific.

It is very clear that Uncle Sam is getting impatient and could not afford to waste much time on the fate of their military bases in Japan and in Guam, as China is slowly inching it's way to become the region’s superpower.

In the recently concluded 2+2 meeting in Washington attended by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates with their counterparts, Japan Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa and Japan Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto, they reaffirmed their commitment to the Guam military buildup and extended a 2014 deadline for the completion of a new air station needed to "the earliest possible date after 2014." (Source:

But from now until that "earliest possible date after 2014", Washington had to realign around 30,000 forces from Afghanistan throughout Asia Pacific. Even the Nato is wondering why the urgency? And where else do we think they will deploy such big number of US forces? Your guess is good as mine. This is the basis of the Olongapo mayor, need we say more?

Actually, the planned Annual RP-US Mutual Defense Board (MDB) meeting (tentatively set in the middle of August this year) in Hawaii will tackle the review of the Mutual Defense Treaty and the US access to its former Philippines-based military bases at Subic and Clark which the US abandoned in 2001 after Manila refused to renew a lease deal with Washington. Now economic zones, Subic and Clark boast US-built ports and airports which could be of strategic importance both amid mounting tensions with China over the Spratly Islands and Washington's wider aim to contain China's strategic rise. (Source: US-Philippines flex collective muscle by Al Labita

As we are experiencing more of Uncle Sam’s rhetoric of its intention to modernize our AFP, translation – disposing decommissioned military junks to AFP, and the so-called “soft power” of Beijing (but actually engaging in “gunboat diplomacy”), we have to be very wary. If we are going to play both US and China cards, we have to play it well or else we will be shortchange again, and worst, be the pawn in their proxy war.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Underneath the Rhetoric and Doublespeak…

Underneath the Rhetoric and Doublespeak…
By Erick San Juan

For us who has been observing the events unfolding in the contested areas of the South China Sea , we have been bombarded with word wars already before any real conflict starts. As I monitor the different pronouncements from various camps, there seems to be no real solution in sight. For they are all talk and more talk (Translation – rhetoric and doublespeak).

We heard so many times already that Beijing (and so are the other claimants) will abide by the Declaration on the Code of Conduct, meaning, all disputes should be resolve in a peaceful way. But, all we can see are military build up in the region. Isn't this doublespeak?

As what General Liang Guanglie, China ’s Minister of National Defense said in his speech at the Shangri-la Dialogue recently :

"The past few years have seen a rapid socio-economic development in China and correspondingly, progress in its defense and military modernization. However, such progress is within the legitimate need of self-defense. It is reiterated in China ’s latest defense white paper that “ China adheres to a defense policy that is purely defensive in nature”, “whether at present or in the future, no matter how developed it may be, China will never seek hegemony or military expansion.” This is a solemn pledge made by the Chinese government to the international community as well as all people of Chinese origin around the world. It is a strategic choice made by the Chinese government based on its fundamental interest and the trend of times. It reflects the continuity and consistency of such a defensive nature."

Chinese President Hu Jintao, in his state visit to the US (as reported by Daily Mail Reporter last January 22, 2011) told the American audience the same thing while President Barack Obama has also expressed similar concerns regarding the military build up of China.

But Hu dismissed the concerns and urged the U.S. to treat China 'with respect and as equals'.

'China-U.S. relations will enjoy smooth and steady growth when the two countries handle well issues involving each other's major interests,' he said.

'Otherwise, our relations will suffer constant trouble or even tension.'

He told the U.S.-China Business Council: 'We will remain committed to the path of peaceful development. We do not engage in an arms race, we are not a military threat to any country. China will never seek to dominate or pursue an expansionist policy.’

The abovementioned reports signified the confluence of interests of the two superpowers in the Asia-Pacific region. No tension or even conflict will happen if they will respect each other’s “interests”.

But how about the interests of the rest of the countries occupying the said region? Don’t they have the right or interests to protect?

Like in our situation as a sovereign state, we have our own interest to protect too. If the saber rattling in the disputed area in the South China Sea will continue to be used as a way for the superpowers to "deceive" the world, then, we are heading for a mutually assured destruction, whether we like it or not.

Even if Uncle Sam will keep on saying that he will support our country in times of trouble, let us be wary and learn to read between the lines. We never learn from history on how many times we were shortchanged (through some of our leaders/collaborators). It’s about time to get our acts together and use our assets to get what's due us as a staunch ally.

As for the rest of the world, when are we going to realize that underneath the rhetoric and doublespeak of the superpowers lie the deceit and manipulation by working on both sides of the fence. We have to remind everyone that every time that the big power centers suffer from economic and/or financial turmoil from within, the elite pushes politicians and the military to go to war to unite their people instead of civil war in the process.

Remember : from Carl von Clausewitz (“On War”) - “War is a continuation of politics by other means.”

A 'perfect storm' of fiscal deficits in so many countries could lead to a global financial crisis. According to New York University professor Nouriel Roubini, this ongoing global financial meltdown is catastrophic.

There is really a vicious design to push the world to go to war. Firstly, the masterminds create the situation. Then destroy the economies of nation states. Sow fear and terror. Sacrifice some of it's nationals and brainwashed them to fight a perceived enemy. Remind their constituents that it is their patriotic and moral duty to fight wars as a supreme sacrifice. Sounds familiar? Wake up!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Shangri-la Dialogue, Better than War

Shangri-la Dialogue, Better than War
By Erick A. San Juan

The three-day Shangri-La Dialogue in its tenth year has served its goals of building confidence and fostering practical security cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region where defense ministers, permanent heads of Ministries and military chiefs of 28 major Asia-Pacific states attended and participated in dialogues.

The idea for the forum came from its current director-general and chief executive, Sir John Chipman in 2001. Since then, the said event is held every year by London's International Institute for Strategic Studies, and assisted by the Singaporean Defense Ministry. Hence, the forum gets its name from the Shangri-La hotel in Singapore where it has been held since 2002.

The world has gone through world wars and many regional wars and had experienced its devastating effects to humanity. That is why the Shangri-la Dialogue, which is one of the largest and most important security mechanism in the Asia-Pacific region has taken that giant step forward towards peace and security in the region. Amidst rising tensions in the South China Sea, defense ministers of the region, with all diplomacy, did their part as advocates of peace in order to come out with solutions during bilateral meetings.

But this year’s security forum can only do so much and the rest of the task at hand is left with each delegate to accomplish with mutual respect and cooperation with the rest of the countries in the region.

There are still so many issues that are left to be resolve by each country and one of these is the disputed areas in the South China Sea. Our Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin did his part by reminding our neighbors in the region that every dispute can be solve, no matter how complicated, as long as there is respect for each other and bullying one’s neighbor will not help.

According to recent reports, the Department of Foreign Affairs reiterated the Philippines’ rules-based approach to ending the dispute.

It has proposed the concept of a Zone of Peace, Freedom, Friendship and Cooperation in which disputed territories could be recognized from undisputed areas as provided under international law.

“The Philippines has offered a specific framework for the resolution of differences and the pursuit of cooperation in the form of the ZOPFFC,” said Malaya.

In the ZOPFFC, the disputed islands could be “enclaved” by segregating them and adjacent waters from the rest of the waters of the South China Sea.

The DFA has said the enclaved area could be designated as a Joint Cooperation Area where joint activities could be conducted, such as marine scientific research, search and rescue operations, oil spill preparedness and conservation projects. (Phil. Daily Inquirer 6/11/2011)

This new proposal by our government, together with the efforts in the Shangri-la Dialogue only proves that there are more choices in finding solutions to any disputes. Any endeavor that will create more tensions and word wars among the concerned countries in the region should not be permitted so that peace will reign in the area.

Despite the belief of some quarters that no amount of diplomatic efforts will stop parties of interests from intrusion into our territories, it is very clear that the likes of the Shangri-la Dialogue and other undertakings promoting peace are far much better than engaging in a regional war, and maybe another world war in the process.

Let us remain vigilant and hope that every nation in the region will adhere to peaceful means.

Monday, June 6, 2011

DND Sec. Gazmin at IISS-Need Experts Like Him!

DND Sec. Gazmin at IISS-Need Experts Like Him!
By Erick San Juan

No matter how negative is the perception of the Palace people to opinion writers and columnists, we can’t help say our piece to this new appointment made by President Noy to a very crucial post. We are just doing our job as the messenger in airing the public’s sentiment on very controversial and timely issues.

Domingo Lee, according to what was written on April 15 at Ellen Tordesillas’ blog that : “But family friendship might work for another ambassador to China aspirant: Domingo Lee, whose only qualification for that very important post is, he is a friend of the Aquino family. A source said the one pushing Lee’s appointment is Eldon Cruz, husband of presidential sister Ballsy Cruz. We wonder why.”

Yes, we are wondering why “family friend” is now considered as an important part in one’s application paper to get a government post. Or was it the usual trend? Just asking.

And according to news report that - “What we gather is that he has no experience in foreign affairs,” a senior diplomat told the Tribune. “He would probably have to undergo on the job training to learn the ropes of diplomacy, the challenges of the maritime conflict we are now facing against China and other policy issues.”

In this crucial point in Manila’s relations with China, it is important to have a competent ambassador who can handle complex diplomatic and international issues and is aggressive enough to uphold the country’s national interest.

“We would have been more comfortable if a career ambassador had been nominated instead by the President,” the diplomat said.

Amid several reported Chinese incursions in the Spratlys, the Philippine Embassy in China has been without an ambassador since February, following the recall of another political appointee and businessman Francisco Benedicto. (The Tribune 6-5-2011)

We were right all along, in the midst of the brewing conflict in the South China Sea, there is nobody minding the store (so to speak). For over three months now and yet no ambassador to Beijing? And then we will hear that the Palace has appointed a “family friend”? We were told that Lee is more closer to Taiwan than to China. He's even a party member of ROC's Kuomintang.

Are we that confident enough to face China because Uncle Sam is behind us? Please think again!

We have been saying all along that what we don’t have in military powers, we can do with the right foreign policy i.e. defense policy through diplomacy and having the right person on the post who knows geopolitics/geostrategy.

The President together with the people in his loop should know this and need not be told. In the era of high technology and cyber war, we just can’t afford to be sitting (and sleeping) on a very important post – the ambassador to China.

This is our fight for the sake of the nation’s interest and should not rely much on the Big Brother’s help. Everything can be resolved through peaceful means with the right person ON THE JOB. I am emphasizing the phrase 'on the job', not on another 'job trainee'.

We have wasted several months already and any mistake might lead us to a mutually assured destruction if we will not be cautious.

The Shangri-la Dialogue

The recently concluded Shangri-La Dialogue which I attended and our Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin was one of the resource speaker, has served its purpose of coming together top government and military officials, political analysts and top caliber think tank groups to discuss issues like regional and world security.

The Shangri-La Dialogue is an inter-governmental security forum. It's hosted every year by London's International Institute for Strategic Studies, and assisted by the Singaporean Defense Ministry.

The forum gets its name from the elegant Shangri-La hotel in Singapore where it has been held since 2002. The idea for the forum came from it's hard working and cheerful director-general and chief executive, Sir John Chipman in 2001. Asia Pacific defense ministers could engage in dialogue aimed at building confidence and fostering practical security cooperation.

At present, the Shangri-La Dialogue is the only forum to gather defense ministers, permanent heads of Ministries and military chiefs of 28 major Asia-Pacific states.
Government delegations use the opportunity for bilateral meetings with other delegations on the sidelines.

Sec. Voltaire Gazmin as one of the resource speakers had the opportunity to tackle the South China Sea issue with China and with the other claimants.

It is very clear how important the role of a diplomat is, especially the country’s next ambassador to Beijing. Our good Defense Secretary has done his homework and has that much to portray in the Dialogue to help ease the tensions. We need officials like him. He is the right emissary that could help in ironing out the disputes.

May his tribe increase!