(First of two parts)
While many observers, and the public at large welcome the further enhancement of the Enhanced Defense Capability Agreement, to include additional strategically situated locations for non-permanent bases in our country, I take a guarded view.
There is an immutable given that we need to factor in, and that is: China will always want to “re-unify” Taiwan into their mainland.
It has always considered the island, once called Ilha Formosa by Portuguese colonizers, as part of China.
“Face” will not permit a change of that aspiration, which is why when Nixon met Mao and the US of A decided to recognize the One China principle, they had to let their long-held ally Taiwan float into the shoals of a policy of “strategic ambiguity.”
Now the Marcos Junior administration has decided to shift what his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte described as an “independent” foreign policy lined with epithets against the practices of what most Filipinos consider their “most trusted” ally, into entrusting our defense capabilities into the ambit of America once more.
There is some historical perplexity to this shift, considering the experiences of the Marcos family, who were shanghaied, or so they claim, by the US of A, then with their biggest foreign bases in our island of Luzon, at the height of the EDSA uprising in 1986.
Since Ferdinand II has held, and publicly acknowledges his politics aspires to vindicate his family name, the latest as a seeming Freudian slip, where he thanked Japan “on behalf of my family” before stating “on behalf of my countrymen,” one would surmise a certain degree of animosity towards the American government which in the past hailed his father for “adherence to democratic principles” only to dump him and his family when the going got rough.
But no. Marcos Junior, unlike Duterte, has embraced America as his most trusted ally (“I cannot imagine a future of the Philippines without America as its partner”) and allows it now to use the country’s territory as potential staging ground, or at least a support base, for its designs against an emerged China.
There is to be fair a practical basis for this.
We are after all a victim of Chinese intrusion into what we consider our West Philippine Sea domain, one that Ferdinand I defined in his time, and our fishermen are continually harassed by the vessels of once dormant China.
With our sore lack of defense capabilities in that large body of water that separates us from the Asian mainland, we thus gravitate towards a military superpower who wants to protect a most vital sea lane from presumed Chinese hegemony.
Which I suppose makes the big shift from Duterte’s policy even more acceptable to the Filipino people.
But foreign policy is not all about what is popular. Rather it is about what protects the population best. It is about national interest, which means weighing advantages against threats to its people.
Xi Jin-ping has just won another five years as supreme leader of China. As early as 2017, when he got his second term, he has unsparingly premised his leadership on what he calls the “great rejuvenation” of his race, an unswerving cornerstone of which is the “reunification” of Taiwan with the mainland.
Our Taiwanese friends chafe at this and understandably so. They have a different system, one that is open and democratic, as against the communist regime of the mainland.
Yet less than a tenth of their current population of 23.4 million are of indigenous Austronesian racial origins.
The overwhelming majority came from the mainland, whether under Koxinga and the Ming dynasty loyalists who defied the Manchus of the Qing dynasty, or those who followed Chiang Kai-shek and his Kuomintang after his defeat in the mainland by Mao’s communists.
It is a sentimental reality that makes Han Chinese from both sides of the Taiwan Strait discard the possibilities of a hostile take-over. They are after all — “cousins.”
The senior citizens in Taiwan hope so.
The business taipans hope so too, and recall that when Deng Xiao-ping opened China’s economy, he invited more prosperous Taiwanese businessmen to invest in his special economic zones in the eastern seaboard, especially Shenzhen and Guangzhou.
To this day, Taiwanese money fuels these successful economic zones.
Those economic ties persist even now. Almost half of total Taiwanese trade is with the mainland.
But the present Taiwanese government balks at being subsumed by the mainland “communists,” having become an open and democratic society since the death of Chiang Ching-kuo, the late dictator Chiang’s son.
And the youth, having experienced the easier life under a free society, are troubled by the prospects of a restrained, even regimented society under Xi and his Politburo.
The ideal of a “One China-Two Systems” compromise has foundered after the Hong Kong experience of 2018-19.
Now back to our situation.
Our president visited Beijing in early January and came back with investment and loan pledges, but more significantly, with assurances that our maritime dispute could be settled peacefully and our fishing rights mutually respected.
The mechanisms on both sides that will operationalize these assurances have yet to be ironed out.
But before the saliva from the Beijing side dried up, we went back into the “loving” embrace of our former colonial master, and enhanced the EDCA even more.
First, before US Vice President Kamala Harris late last year where vague military and mutual security cooperation were highlighted.
Then these were cemented during the recent visit of US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin where we openly declared the enhancement of the EDCA.
How do we suppose the mainland will feel about this?
Giving Sta. Ana, Fuga and Palaui in Cagayan province, 30 minutes distant by air from Taiwan’s Kaohsiung, and more of Palawan apart from Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa, a yet undisclosed location in Isabela, and more of Subic apart from what Cerberus took over from bankrupt Hanjin Shipyards (funded by Landbank, theoretically established for the farmers by Ferdinand I), is like sticking a knife to the Chinese throat.
Meanwhile, in Tokyo a month after Beijing, our president and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida agreed to “strengthen” defense ties, and will soon discuss the details of a possible visiting forces agreement that would make it easier for Japan to send troops to the Philippines for disaster response (nothing wrong with that, as the same was mouthed by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and our Carlito Galvez) and “military drills.”
Now what are the downsides of this shift?
(To be continued)