MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 30 June) – China’s recent aggressive posturing in the disputed Spratly Islands has rekindled debates on whether the Senate did the right thing in rejecting the renewal of the military bases agreement with the United States, on 16 September 1991. Some even blamed that historic decision as having prevented the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines rendering it incapable of defending the national territory against powerful neighbors such as the awakened sleeping giant in the Asian mainland.
This is a rather uninformed claim that betrays a continuing separation anxiety over what happened almost 20 years ago. Truth is, it has been the country’s dependence on US military might that has retarded the AFP’s external defense capability. With the presence then of two of the biggest American military facilities outside of mainland US (Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base), the officials in charge of our defense thought there was no need to strengthen our own military. We associated and continue to associate our own national security imperative, in particular the defense of our territorial integrity, with that of the US through the Mutual Defense Treaty, blinding us to the one-sided nature of such arrangement.
And so when the Chinese again flexed their muscle in the West Philippine Sea the government instinctively made a distress call to Washington. It may have been a pragmatic move if our mindset is fixed on invoking American intervention to keep the Chinese at bay. On the other hand, however, it highlighted the poverty of Philippine foreign policy and exposed our inability to deal with an increasingly assertive China without Big Brother by our side. Naturally, the US is only too happy to find an excuse to dip her fingers in the reportedly oil-rich disputed islands and in the whole of China Sea itself.
It is highly questionable that the Philippines had to focus her efforts in cajoling the US into challenging Chinese presence in the Spratlys simply because our own navy – if we have one – is too decrepit to do it. Diplomacy took a backseat, which is unfortunate and a move that presumed with certainty that the Chinese were ready to grab the entire Spratlys by force. It was a move that played right into US designs to exploit the issue as a way of enhancing its role in the Southeast Asian region.
By inviting the US in – or, more precise, by giving justification to US presence in the Spratlys – the Philippines overlooked a glaring fact: the US is the real intruder, and she can’t cite a single provision in any instrument of international law to back her presence there. China may have been rude in the way she is asserting her sovereignty on those islands, but it’s an issue that is better left to the claimant states to settle, among them or through the United Nations. In this situation, the US is a bully trying to interfere in a conflict which is not even near her neighborhood.
Moreover, it looks embarrassing that while Vietnam, another claimant, has put up a brave front against China all by herself, the Philippines is hiding behind Washington’s skirt. Isn’t it ironic that our assertion of sovereignty over the Spratlys has to rely on a mendicant foreign policy?
Why can’t we deal more with China on friendly terms and not resort to alarmist measures that would benefit the US more than us? It’s high time perhaps to shed those stars and stripes from our foreign policy lens and see the long-term benefits of striking a modus vivendi with China. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.)