Thursday, February 02, 2012

Commentary: Increased U.S. military presence in the Philippines and the rise of China

WHEN Craig Whitlock published an article in Washington Post on January 26 to discuss the idea of an “increased U.S. military presence” in the Philippines in “reaction to China’s rise”, many readers instantly took him out of context. 

In China, the Global Times overreacted by running an editorial on January 27 that urged the Chinese government to “respond” by using economic sanctions against the Philippines to “make the Philippines pay for balancing act.” 
The China Daily, on the other hand, published the article of Cui Haipei on January 30 stating that the Philippines is “sending a wrong signal” to China by allowing more U.S. troops on Philippine soil. 

Though both the Global Times and the China Daily are state-run, they, however, do not represent the official position of the Chinese government.

In fact, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is more constructive and circumspect in its official reaction when it asks the Philippines and the U.S. to  “make more effort towards peace and stability in the region.”  The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs even underscores that while the Philippines is strengthening its security alliance with the U.S., the Philippines is also deepening its friendly exchanges with China “to promote the comprehensive development of bilateral relations, such as in the areas of energy, science and technology, disaster mitigation, law enforcement, and maritime cooperation, among others.”

But by allowing these two newspapers to run strongly worded opinion pieces on matters affecting China’s foreign and security policy, they also convey messages to the whole world that these ideas are also in the minds of some nationalistic analysts and hard-line officials.  Otherwise, these pieces would not find spaces in Chinese dailies.  Serious problems arise if government allows strong nationalism and hard-line thoughts to enter the sensitive domain of official policy.

Amidst talks of an increased U.S. military presence in the Philippines, Admiral Robert Willard of the U.S. Pacific Command exclaims, “We would welcome discussions with the Philippines along those lines but there's no aspirations for bases in Southeast Asia.”

Talks of an increased U.S. military presence in the Philippines are, in fact,  products of the Second Bilateral Strategic Dialogue between the Philippines and the U.S. held on January 26-27, 2012 in Washington, DC.  In this dialogue, both countries have reiterated their commitments to “invigorate” and “expand” their security alliance and make their alliance” capable of addressing 21st century challenges.” 

Though the Philippines and the U.S. do not mention China as a security challenge in the Joint Statement signed by both countries on January 27, there is no doubt that the rise of China has become a security challenge in the 21st century.  Strengthening Philippine security alliance with the U.S. is one of the coping mechanisms to meet the China challenge.

There is a need, however, for the Philippines and the U.S. to exert more efforts to clarify the issue of an “increased U.S. military presence”.   Without a clarification of this controversial issue, some observers in China will view it in the context of “containment”.  Some observers in the Philippines will view it, on the other hand, as an aggravation of American predominance in Philippine foreign, defense and security policy.
February 01, 2012 01:07 PM

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