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Will US defend the Philippines in a shoot-out with China?

Filipino and US Marines take part in a joint military exercise in Tarnate town, Cavite province, south of Manila.

Filipino and US Marines take part in a joint military exercise in Tarnate town, Cavite province, south of Manila.

South China Sea territory disputes are simply not on Washington's agenda; Manila needs to rethink its strategy and alliances

The critical questions for Filipinos are: Will the United States defend the Philippines if there is a shoot-out with China in the Spratlys? How far will the United States go in terms of conforming to the Mutual Defence Treaty? Is mutual defence a myth, a misleading vague alliance for the United States to gain vested concessions?

Echoing US President Barack Obama's statements, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel has said: "The US is neutral and doesn't take any side on territorial disputes in the South China Sea."

The United States has criticised China over incidents in Southeast Asia, but these are mere words. Observers say the only time the United States will move is if the Strait of Malacca is closed by armed conflict. The United States will never permit international sea lanes to be blocked. When Egypt tried to close the Suez Canal, the US and UK governments instantly sent an invasion force.

When push comes to shove, will America react? Many factors suggest it will not. The trend on how it wages war has shifted dramatically from expensive invasion and protracted occupation (as in Iraq and Afghanistan), to cheaper clandestine support (arms, mercenaries and/or funds) for pro-US regimes or rebels (as in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Ukraine).

Drone technology is the new trend because there are less US casualties but, ironically, more non-American civilian casualties, catalysing more terror attacks, and giving the United States a bad international image.

America has never reacted to incidents such as the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat, or a stand-off between Philippine and Chinese vessels, in the Spratlys. America issues protests and a promise of "mutual defence", but never moves. This has emboldened China to continue its aggressions, spraying, sinking and threatening Vietnamese, Malaysian, Indian, Japanese and Philippine vessels at will.

The US donation of used ships and planes to the Philippines is dangerous because it emboldens Filipinos to fight back with the illusion that "Big Brother" is behind them. This donation cannot face up to China's naval might; using them to wage conflict will result in the massacre of Filipinos. The chance of the United States giving us drones and sophisticated weapons is slim. For one, it has to be clandestine as it needs congressional approval in Washington.

The Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) was initiated and authored by the United States, not the Philippines. It was forged through the many visits of Philippine Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to Washington. When he came back, he issued press statements echoing the US voice on the need for alliance and mutual defence and the promise of rescue against Chinese incursions, as a rationale for the US "rebalancing" policy.

This policy is not important and is in fact detrimental to Filipinos. Gazmin appears to be an agent of the Pentagon and the White House in carrying out US military plans. The Spratlys are not on the US agenda. The United States will not move just because a Filipino ship is sunk by China. The US agenda is a much larger strategy of "encirclement" through "rebalancing", which will shift 60 per cent of US forces away from the Middle East to the Asia Pacific.

The EDCA, which represents the geopolitical interests of the US, not those of the Philippines, was achieved covertly without congressional input, thereby making it illegal and unconstitutional. It was signed in April and was revealed gradually much later as a fait accompli, precisely because the authors knew it would be met with an avalanche of protests. This reflects the weakness of President Benigno Aquino in acting on behalf of Philippine interests.

On the other side of the political divide, the National Democratic Front-Communist Party of the Philippines is silent on China. It has to do a lot of soul-searching and refit its ideology to the new, evolving situation. Perhaps the best stance is to be anti-America and anti-China at the same time.

And is the United States inducing a Chinese pre-emptive first strike?

Beijing is fully aware of US encirclement designs via rebalancing, a massive shift of US forces to the Asia-Pacific in apparent preparation for a war with China. China is fully aware of the Pentagon's Air/Sea Battle plan (ASB) and Anti-access/Area Denial (A2/AD) strategy, an apparent grand scheme for the invasion of China. Logically, China is feverishly preparing, with more research and arms. ASB-A2/AD has triggered a rapid arms escalation.

The first goal of America may be to neutralise all Chinese facilities that may deny access to its invading forces. These include carriers, missile sites and bases deep in the Chinese mainland. Even US generals have reportedly expressed fears that China would view this aggressive attack as an all-out invasion, and may respond with a nuclear first strike. If even Pentagon generals have this fear, why is America clinging to the ASB-A2/AD? Does this imply that the White House is but a pawn of the Wall Street-Pentagon partnership, which today rules America, and wants more wars to enrich itself?

Bernie V Lopez is a political commentator, radio and TV broadcaster and producer-director, and a former professor at Metro Manila's Ateneo de Manila University.


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