(Second of two Parts)
Last Monday, we ended our article by mentioning the likelihood of a Visiting Forces Agreement with Japan or whatever final form a security arrangement we may in the near future have with China’s historic rival.
The shift in our foreign and security policy will be more pronounced with this.
China’s long memory has yet to forget the Rape of Nanjing by Japanese invaders, even if the Filipinos’ extremely short memory may have erased the atrocities inflicted by the Japanese forces during the Second World War.
We understand the concern of the Japanese over the rising military strength of China, especially since the South China Sea is maritime lifeline for the Japanese and South Korean economies.
The specter of a Chinese closure of these sea lanes once Taiwan is reunited with the mainland is not likely though, as that would trigger a world war.
China knows this as well, and will likely not risk shooting itself in the foot with such adventurism.
What matters to the once sleeping dragon in the realm of geopolitics is Taiwan. Not only is it doctrine, it is a question of “face.”
“Strategic ambiguity” has been the American policy towards Taiwan since it recognized the One China principle, but wary hotheads in Washington DC now push for “strategic clarity” with President Joe Biden blowing hot and cold on the Taiwan issue.
Relations between Beijing and DC are getting testy, each side watching the moves of the other.
One such move that Beijing is quite disturbed about is the growing American military presence in the Philippines.
We have every right to assert our objections to what China has been doing in the West Philippine Sea, occupying rocks and expanding them into reclaimed islands, and harassing our fishermen who eke out a living in the waters of our economic zone.
We should prod our ASEAN member-states, particularly Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei into pressing for a mutually acceptable Code of Conduct in the South China Sea and never give up on our territorial claims, even as we continue diplomatic talks with China on protecting the livelihood of our fishermen.
But protective measures of sovereignty and economic well-being have to be properly calibrated lest it provoke retaliatory measures in these difficult times.
On the economic front, we have a yawning trade deficit with China.
As of end 2021, that deficit was 15.2 billion dollars. What we export to China they can source elsewhere if the State dictates, except perhaps, and for the next few years, our nickel and other minerals.
Even our 2-billion-dollar fruit export allocation for bananas, pineapples, and now durian as well, can suffer consequences, as occurred in 2012 over the Scarborough Shoal incident.
Yet with our weak domestic manufacturing, we consume far too many imported Chinese goods.
Our shopping malls will close down if Yiwu or Guangdong stop selling cheap goods to them. And with cost economies, it will not be easy to substitute these with Made in USA or Made in Japan goods.
But more than these possible economic effects, I fear that by allowing China’s powerful geopolitical rivals to pre-position military equipment in many parts of our country, we will contribute to hastening a military invasion of Taiwan.
Make no mistake, as the president himself admits, that a war in the Taiwan Strait will affect us, draw us into its vortex if only because of geographical proximity.
The mere fact that we have 160,000 Filipinos residing in Taiwan who we cannot easily repatriate home once the PLA bombs the airports and seaports from Keelung to Kaoshiung is a nightmare already.
But allowing the US of A to expand their military presence here, albeit on a “non-permanent” basis, is allowing them to prepare for war against China.
Sure, “si vis pacem, pare bellum” (If you want peace, prepare for war) holds true to this day, and that may be what the US and its allies in the region (Japan, South Korea and Australia) are trying to project to dissuade China from an armed attack on what it indubitably considers part of its territory.
Being prepared is prudent. Deterrence is fine.
But faced against an implacable determination on the part of China under Xi to take over Taiwan by peaceful means or otherwise, we may end up provoking the otherwise, and earlier.
Time will no longer be a friend of Beijing, to paraphrase John F. Kennedy’s words.
For now, Beijing may bide its time on account of the forthcoming 2024 elections in Taiwan, about the same time the US of A will decide between the Democrats and the Republicans.
Last week, the Kuomintang’s vice-chairman, Andrew Hsia met with Wang Huning, the Communist Party’s fourth ranked leader in Beijing, and was asked to “oppose Taiwan independence and interference by external forces” so as to maintain peace in the Taiwan Strait.
Wang is quite close to Xi, and is one of just two Politburo Standing Committee members not replaced by the latter in the last party congress in October 2021.
Although the KMT or “Blue” party in Taiwan favors close ties with China, it has for political correctness denied being pro-Beijing, and declares it is just for peaceful resolution of disputes.
The ruling DPP, on the other hand, has been staunch in its defense of a free Taiwan, and has been strengthening its defense mechanisms in the event of a Chinese “invasion.”
The US of A, while affirming a One China policy and a strategic ambiguity towards Taiwan “independence” has been profitably supplying arms to the island nation to “enhance its defensive capability.”
Sounds exactly like EDCA.
It is foreseeable for the PRC to be supportive of a KMT victory in Taiwan’s November 2024 elections, and between now and then, more pro-active measures may be in place.
Meanwhile, the push to steal more nations which recognize Taiwan will continue.
Depending on the outcome of the April elections, Paraguay, the South American landlocked nation once ruled by a dictator, may soon switch recognition to China from Taiwan, the opposition eyeing the big Chinese market for its livestock and soybean exports, lifeblood of its economy.
Recall that Tsai Ing-wen’s predecessor, the KMT’s Ma Ying-jeou, presided over warm relations with the mainland.
But what happens if the DPP wins again, after eight years of Tsai?
Feeling assured that big brother America and friendly Japan will be with them, the situation between “cousins” could deteriorate further.
With 2027 around the corner for Xi Jinping’s third and probably final term, and in the face of the US pare bellum tactics in the region, particularly in the Philippines which is closest to Taiwan, the itch to push the button for a military offensive could thus be irresistibly hastened.
The Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation can no longer be postponed.
Will then the Philippines be caught in the maelstrom and the non-permanent bases become targets for the PLA forces?
Of course we will.
And what about the safety of the 160,000 Filipinos in Taiwan who along with half a million more contract workers from other countries may not even have space in underground shelters?
These should be primary considerations to ponder about in the crafting of foreign policy that impacts on national security.
This is unlike a Neville Chamberlain conundrum in the face of Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland.
Europe’s geography and its history are far different from ours vis-à-vis our water- separated rich and powerful neighbors.
It will be a blue water and air corridor conflict, where time is key to everything.