“Pelosi’s trip was intended to assure Taiwan that American defense commitment to it in case of an armed attack by China is iron-clad, meaning the Pentagon will send war planes, battle ships and troops to repel any invader”
On Tuesday, Aug. 2, the U.S. air force jet that flew US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Malaysia headed towards Borneo before turning north to the Philippines. It was the most tracked flight on tracking website Flightradar24, of all time.
At 1130 GMT, Aug. 2 (7.30 PM in Manila), the Pelosi team was flying just south of the Philippines. It was trying to avoid Chinese military planes in the South China Sea.
To do that, the flight to Taipei took three hours longer. A Kuala Lumpur to Taipei flight would have taken just under five hours.
That the US Air Force jet with Pelosi’s team flew over the Philippines to evade possibly hostile Chinese military planes could be a metaphor, if not an augury, of things to come in what is the world’s most hotly contested region, the South China Sea.
The Philippines could be embroiled in the event of a war between the US and China over Taiwan.
Manila has a defense treaty with Washington. One must aid the other in case of an attack. The US response, however, is not ironclad. It is subject to US constitutional processes, which means the US President must first get the nod of the US Congress.
Also, the Philippines is the nearest base for American troops. Manila is just 1,161 kms from Taipei, or less than 90 minutes by jet. Besides, there are already American troops pre-stationed in Filipino bases in the country.
The possibility of war presents a conundrum to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.. He is not exactly pro-American. His father was ousted from the presidency in 1986 in a coup aided if not planned by the US Central Intelligence Agency. The Marcos family was treated badly during their forced exile in Hawaii.
Meanwhile, Manila under President Duterte warmed up to Beijing. He almost forgot that the Philippines won in 2016 the arbitral award over the Philippine claims to islands, islets, reefs and seas in the West Philippine Sea.
President Marcos Jr. himself has said he might continue Duterte’s independent foreign policy, which could mean he is more pro-China than pro-US.
Besides, he said in a recent speech before the Chinese ambassador in Manila: “China cannot find a greater champion than my mother in the Philippines.”
Then First Lady Imelda Romualdez in 1975 paved the way for the establishment of diplomatic relations with what was then called Red China, far ahead of the US recognition of Beijing. Bongbong joined her parents in meeting Mao Tse Tung in the Chinese capital in 1975.
Pelosi’s trip was intended to assure Taiwan that American defense commitment to it in case of an armed attack by China is iron-clad, meaning the Pentagon will send war planes, battle ships and troops to repel any invader.
Pelosi is the highest ranking American official to visit Taiwan in 25 years.
Meeting with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday, Mrs. Pelosi assured her Washington DC wouldn’t abandon its commitment to Taipei.
The House speaker declared: ““Today the world faces a choice between democracy and autocracy. America’s determination to preserve democracy here in Taiwan and around the world remains ironclad.”
Pelosi’s surreptitious visit of course angered China. After the trip, Beijing ordered live fire drills four days, from Thursday to Sunday that were feared were nothing more than saber-rattling while, at the same time, offering the potential to disrupt commercial shipping in the region.
For China President Xi Jinping, the Pelosi trip has struck a raw nerve.
Xi is seeking a third term. But his zero COVID policy has angered many constituents and brought the once robust Chinese economy, the world’s largest, to its worst slump.
Accordingly, while Pelosi was still in Taipei, the Chinese dispatched 27 war planes near Taiwan’s air defense zone.
China claims Taiwan is its province, a part of its sovereign province, a part of its sovereign territory, and has made it clear it would go to war for its assertion.
A nation of 23 million, Taiwan has prospered, however.
The US and 90 percent of the world do not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state.
The Philippines, in particular, does not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state but maintains a de facto embassy disguised as an economic and cultural office.
The US is required by law to defend Taiwan and opposes any Chinese attempts to seize the island by force.
According to the World Bank, after a strong start in early 2022, the largest COVID-19 wave in two years has disrupted China’s growth normalization. GDP growth will slow sharply to 4.3 percent in 2022
The World Bank blames the economic damage caused by Omicron outbreaks and the prolonged lockdowns in parts of China from March to May.
Growth momentum is expected to rebound in the second half of 2022, helped by aggressive policy stimulus to mitigate the economic downturn.
Meanwhile, President Biden has repeatedly suggested he would intervene in case of Chinese attack on Taiwan.
At least seven states claim parts, if not whole of the sea, islands, islets and reefs in the South China Sea: Brunei, the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan or Republic of China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
The South China Sea is crucial to the world for many reasons: An estimated US$3.37 trillion worth of global trade passes through it annually.
The amount is a third of the global maritime trade. About 80 percent of China’s energy imports and 39.5 percent of China’s total trade passes through the South China Sea.
Of the seven claimant countries, China has been the most vociferous and galling in its efforts to assert its claim under its so-called nine-dash line map etched by a Chinese cartographer in 1949.
Using the nine-dash line, China claims sovereignty over 90 percent of the South China Sea.
The claim, however, was debunked by the July 12, 2016 ruling by the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague in the case presented by the Philippines against Beijing which rejected the ruling.