Monday, March 21, 2016

Do We Have a Choice? by Erick San Juan

Do We Have a Choice? by Erick San Juan

The Philippines and United States have agreed on the five military bases in the country where the Americans can build facilities under the Enhanced Defense Agreement Cooperation.

The five “EDCA Agreed Locations” identified during the sixth Bilateral Strategic Dialogue in Washington DC this week are:

Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa, Palawan
Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga
Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija
Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro
Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Mactan

The annual dialogue was co-chaired by Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel and Assistant Secretary of Defense David Shear for the US, and Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Evan P. Garcia and Undersecretary of National Defense Pio Lorenzo F. Batino for the Philippines, the Philippine embassy in Washington DC said in a statement.

Under EDCA, the US can not only increase its military presence in the country but also build facilities in local bases under the supervision of the Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, expanding on the Visiting Forces Agreement. (Source:, March 19, 2016)

After declaring EDCA as constitutional by the Supreme Court, all systems go in its implementation as soon as possible. Some Filipinos believe that the presence of US military troops in the country will somehow deter the Chinese from its bullying its neighbors in the region. But some Filipinos, especially from the progressive left and the patriotic ones, the country doesn’t need the ‘big brother’ because it only increases the tension in the South China Sea and put the country in the crosshairs.

As what Peter Lee wrote in his article China is Not Leaving the “South China Sea”, “America is learning that the South China Sea is called the South “China” Sea for a reason, despite patriotic efforts in various nations to rename it the “West Philippine Sea” or “East Vietnamese Sea”.

Peoples Republic of China Foreign Minister Wang Yi declared that China was the first to discover, name, develop, and administer the various islands of the southern seas. Our ancestors have tilled those fields and toiled there amid hardships for generations. We know this place and love this place better than anyone else, and more than any other people we wish for the peace and stability of the southern sea and freedom of navigation.

Wang Yi’s flowery rhetoric about China’s sole historical claim to all the islands of the southern seas and their development is a historical nonsense.

But the second part, about the Beijing's  paramount interest and growing predominance in the South China Sea is closer to the truth. This is because the PRC is spending a lot of money, effort, and diplomatic capital to make it true.

What was not told was to please the millions of Chinese fisher folks not only roaming around the 9 dash line but also all oceans of the world. No wonder incidents like the Argentinian navy downed a China's fishing ship intruding its territory, emboldened the Chinese to test other territorial waters.

The People’s Republic of China sails through the South China Sea, flies through it, fishes in it, erects towns and airfields, sends in cruise ships and commercial jet liners on regular schedules, patrols it with an armada of coast guard and naval vessels, maintains forward military bases in it, builds faux islands in it, occasionally prospects within it with its massive semi-submersible drilling rig, dots it with radar stations and lighthouses, relies for it as a vital energy corridor…”

The mere fact that both Beijing and Washington are accusing each other of militarizing the region thereby increasing the hostilities in the SCS, neither will give way to ease the tension in the already militarized region. Much more leave the South China Sea.

As far as China is concern, so much investment had been poured in the SCS and literally fortifying it with troops and military hardware but US military isn’t going anywhere either.

“If the US wishes to evict the PRC from the South China Sea, it will have to consider stronger, more dangerous, and politically and diplomatically less palatable measures-and a more convincing menace than an imputed PRC threat to commercial freedom of navigation, or even as antagonist to the international norms and laws represented by the UNCLOS ruling.

The US military is now shifting the terms of debate from the shaky premise that the PRC presence in the South China Sea is a threat to global commerce and the world order to a somewhat more realistic anxiety that the PRC will, in the near future, possess sufficient military assets in the South China Sea to challenge and in theory impede or deny military maritime and aviation traffic by other nations.

This strategy is encapsulated in the continued alarms that the PRC is “militarizing” the South China Sea, an accusation that the PRC, particularly after the US Navy sailed a carrier battle group through the SCS in early March 2016, is not inclined to take seriously.

The focus on “militarization” is exemplified by warning the PRC not to announce a South China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone or ADIZ, which would require aircraft flying near and toward the PRC (including its contested SCS facilities) to identify themselves and state their intentions. To knock down a frequently stated canard, an ADIZ is not a declaration of territorial airspace and the ADIZ of various nations can overlap, as the PRC and REpublic of Korea ADIZs overlap in the East China Sea. One might think that the SCS, with growing military traffic by hostile powers, sorely needs an ADIZ to prevent misunderstandings, incidents, and escalation, but China hawks will try to advance the argument that in this case, as in many matters involving the South China Sea, ordinary logic simply doesn’t apply.” (Peter Lee)

The tension in the South China Sea will not stop until a real peaceful resolution will be agreed upon and implemented by China and the claimants in the disputed areas. But with the US in the background and continually prodding its allies to settle the disputes through multilateral talks, there will always be a threat to the region’s peace.

Do we have a choice?

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