Action-Reaction Cycle in Dangerous Times
By Erick San Juan
Rhetorics usually precede armed conflicts and hints at the important issues over which the upcoming war will eventually be fought. Thus, through leaders’ rhetoric, one can witness a not yet fully materialized "war of minds". This may then, ideally speaking, prompt one to try to remove the spiritual incentive to fight a war; to cool down the "war of minds" before it turns into a "war of arms". (Drazen Pehar’s analyses in the argumentation made by George Lakoff of the University of California at Berkeley, in his seminal paper on ‘Metaphor and War’)
We cannot ignore the fact that we are living in dangerous times where flashpoints are brewing and ready to explode into a regional conflict or worst, a global war. Here in this region, in Asia-Pacific, there are several disputed areas where the so-called action-reaction cycle is being engaged by leaders and government officials centered on issues where a possible war might erupt.
Rhetoric and oftentimes doublespeak were being used extensively by world leaders to avoid (or maybe delay) a ‘war of arms’. But the nagging question is for how long?
For every action taken by either of the G2 (US and China) in the disputed areas centered in the South China Sea (SCS), a reaction follows eventually and if not handled with utmost diplomacy, it could lead to something else.
This holds true in the case of the Philippines, wherein we have witnessed several action-reaction cycle over some territories that we as claimant has been fighting for over the years. But because of diplomacy and respect for existing laws and/or treaties, we restrain from engaging in more provocations that can lead to violence.
Although we cannot ignore the reality that our country is perceived as ‘the loyal ally’ of Uncle Sam in the region and this alone is believed by Beijing as a provocation on China. And. as expected the reaction from mainland China (when it comes to our relation with the US) is not always pleasant. As what some pundits say that the stubborn and bullying ways of China in the SCS are actually the reasons why the claimants turn to the ‘big brother’ for support.
But not all claimants.
Take for example, Vietnam, as what Colonel Tran Dang Thanh shared in his views on foreign affairs with an audience of deans and professors drawn from Hanoi's many universities (in mid-December) : “Thanh heaped scorn on the notion that Vietnam could rely on American support. "They never have and never will treat us well. If they're nice here, if they praise us there, support us in the South China Sea, it's because they're trying to use a small fish to catch a big one." (State secrets revealed in Vietnam By David Brown)
Colonel Thanh’s reaction to America’s strategy of using smaller countries to fight China, translation-Uncle Sam’s way of using proxy war or witting pawn in his game of war, is a sad reality of what our present leadership is doing.
But like all other claimants, Vietnam will not take things sitting down, “Getting back the Paracel Islands (from which China evicted South Vietnamese troops in 1974) will be difficult, Thanh acknowledged, but we've got to try, going at it cleverly, avoiding a direct clash. We told the Chinese, he said, that our historical claim to the islands is better than yours. Let's fight it out in the International Court of Justice. If it rules against us, we'll accept that.” (Ibid)
Vietnam could also be as stubborn as China when it comes to protecting their territories vis-à-vis their sovereignty, but there are several things to be considered when it comes to the solidarity among their citizenry. As what Thanh pointed out in his discussion, “he pounded away at the notion that war with China is unthinkable, without ever quite saying so. There are 1.3 billion of them, and only 90 million of us, he noted. Thus, for Vietnam, China must be a special case. "We must never forget that they've invaded us over and over, yet we also must always remember that China made great sacrifices to supply us in our wars against France and the US. We must not seem ungrateful for that."
Breaking the vicious action-reaction cycle in the disputed areas in the SCS could be a difficult task knowing that all claimants will fight for their territories no matter what it takes.
A regional conflict is in the offing, yes, it could be delayed but in these dangerous times any miscalculations and/or provocations of any sort might be the trigger that will ignite the fuse of a possible global war. God forbid.