First of a series
THE Taiwan Strait is thus far one of the most sensitive issues for China-US relations. The rising tensions, the brewing hot war atmosphere between China and the United States, and the potential military confrontation between the two superpowers seem almost inevitable. The saber-rattling over the Taiwan Strait, which was triggered by the recent visit to the Philippines of US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, which made not just done deals of the additional four EDCA bases, enhanced joint patrol on the disputed South China Sea (SCS) between the Philippines and the US, deployment of more US boots on Philippine soil, and pre-positioning of military assets in the country, but for the most part is a glaring and deep-seated irritant, a strong provocation against China. These new developments have undoubtedly amplified the feverish brewing atmosphere and volatile situation in the Taiwan Strait.
To note, the Taiwan issue is one of the red flags of China, and I guess the whole world knows that. To cross the said red line, as far as the Chinese are concerned, is a violation of their sovereignty and territorial integrity. And mind you, the Chinese will not blink an eye to defend their rightful claim over Taiwan. The Chinese may possibly strike a win-win compromise with other claimant-states over the disputed SCS through diplomacy and peaceful means and negotiations on possible joint oil and gas ventures, fishery management, etc., with claimant states like the Philippines, or through the ongoing negotiations on the China-Asean South China Sea Code of Conduct (COC), which Indonesia as the chair of Asean will push for its early conclusion and adoption. But the Taiwan question is a non-negotiable for the Middle Kingdom. China will not compromise its claim over Taiwan as part of its sovereign territory. Nevertheless, as far as the Chinese are concerned, the most preferred way is the peaceful reunification of Taiwan with the mainland, and the military option seems to be the last resort unless provoked and challenged.
The COC is based on a 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea signed by China and all 10 Asean member states. The COC is important because it seeks to manage inter-state relations within the SCS area and address disputes over territorial claims in the contested waters.
Hence, the Philippines must be reminded that involving itself directly or indirectly on issues related to Taiwan at the behest and bidding of the US in whatever sense and whatever that may be, is akin to interfering with the internal affairs of China. Take note that one of the pillars of our bilateral relations with China is our adherence to and respect for the One China principle.
On another note, amid the rising tension between the US and China over Taiwan, what are its implications, and how will countries like the Philippines be affected, given that the Philippines is a treaty ally of the US?
Again, the country will be hosting a total of nine EDCA bases in a matter of time, which, to be blunt about it, are installed and located for US purposes. They’re near or on the disputed SCS, and some of these EDCA bases are facing Taiwan, significantly enhancing the US military’s ability to challenge Beijing. In this regard, the country practically becomes the unfortunate US strategic security and defense outpost and a pawn for US security and military operations in the Indo-Pacific region, especially if a war or military confrontation breaks out between the superpowers.
Suppose anything untoward happens in the Taiwan Strait, like a military confrontation between the US forces stationed in the Asia Pacific region and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces in whatever magnitude and scale, then eventually, the Philippines will be the subject of retaliation because of the presence of the nine EDCA bases, US soldiers and military assets on Philippines soil. If this happens, which I hope it doesn’t, it will be a most unfortunate fate for the Philippines. Hence, Filipinos must ponder whether the nine EDCA bases and EDCA are beneficial or detrimental to the Philippines.
The way I see it, the PLA mobilization and prolonged military exercises and drills in the eastern theater as a response before and after Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan was not merely a show of force but are preparations for any eventuality that might happen in the Taiwan Strait.
On this note, the best course forward is for the Philippines as a country not to get involved indirectly or directly but to stay neutral and non-aligned. The Philippines should also denounce and move toward the abrogation of EDCA and, by extension, the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), revisit and subject the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) to a public debate to determine if we still need such a military treaty with the US or not, and if in any case, we need to renegotiate it or do away with it. These steps will provide the Philippines more leverage in dealing with the geopolitical realities/tensions and the maneuverings of superpowers in our region (Asia/Indo-Pacific) and beyond. Not doing so will put us in a flat-footed position. These treaties are like umbilical cords that need to be cut.
The MDT, EDCA and VFA are treaties that have long served and assured the US of a military foothold in the country, which in many respects substantially framed the Philippines within the ambit of the US. These treaties established, legalized and legitimized to a greater extent US presence and a certain level of neocolonial control over the Philippines. Furthermore, these military and defense pacts between the Philippines and the US have many infirmities and lopsided and skewed provisions favorable more to the US than to the Philippines. Amid all the geopolitical realities surrounding the Philippines, the country must be more prudent in its position and navigating the tension-driven Indo-Pacific region.
Furthermore, moving closer, pivoting to the US, and aligning the country’s foreign policy with US Indo-Pacific strategy and foreign policy, which are hostile to and are targeting China in many respects, engenders enormous risks for the Philippines, like the loss of economic benefits.
Take note, China remains the largest trading partner of the Philippines, the largest source of imports, the second largest export destination, a major foreign investor, and the second largest source of tourists for the Philippines. This makes China one of the most important economic partners of the Philippines. Hence, politically stable Philippines-China relations are significant to the Philippines, especially on the economic front.
Indeed, geopolitical realities and considerations dictate that the Philippines should not make itself dependent on the US for its security and survival; instead it should take a neutral and independent stance. Relying heavily on the US for our defense and security is an unpragmatic realism, which will cost us a lot both in the short and long run. Such a strategy does not account for and is blind to the shifting tides of geopolitical realities of the world and Indo-Pacific region and the evolving and emerging multipolar world order. I hope it’s not too late for the Philippines to put back its foreign policy to a neutral and independent one rather than aligning it with US Indo-Pacific strategy and foreign policy.
Source: The Manila Times