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The Great Game: Philippine Edition

The Obama Administration may soon come to an agreement with Philippines to station U.S. troops or naval vessels on its territory. The talks are still in the early stages, but officials from both countries have said they are inclined to strike a deal within the next few months.

An agreement with Manila would come close on the heels of two other upcoming moves: American Marines soon to be stationed in Australia and several U.S. warships moving to Changi Naval Base in Singapore.

Asian nations are learning that the United States is prepared to offer a real balance against China’s new assertiveness in the region. In the Philippine case, this dovetails nicely with the country’s interests—especially with respect to the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands, geographically closer to the Philippines than China. Manila has occasionally stationed troops on the islands, and it operates a number of offshore oil fields in waters claimed by China. Having American ships docked in its ports, if not also American boots on Philippine soil, will no doubt be a confidence booster for Manila in these and other disputes.

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  • WigWag

    How long ago was it that freely flowing lava and political opposition resulted in the Americans abandoning Subic Bay and Clark Air Base?

    It looks like we’re back.

  • Jetzer Tigue

    11 years. The “Ugly American”, a term that was popular in 20th century Philippines, returns.

  • Anthony

    A familiar ring…I will return. “…and of State Department instructions to the American emissary in China to employ methods for the extension of American interests in China…this talk was important in shaping American policy toward the Philippines and all of Asia” (The Rhetoric of Empire). As things change, in some respects they remain the same.

  • cas

    Subic Bay, here we come!
    Many’s the vet I’ve met who has missed that port…

  • bob

    Why are we wasting our resources on people who the Philippines. They haven’t invested in anything militarily. They retired their F-5 fighters and requested “free” f-16s last year. There navy’s flagship is an old World War 2 destroyer. Last year a few of their generals were indicted for corruption. The Filipinos have no military capability. What are we getting out of this? Are the Filipinos going to pay for our bases? Waste of American money. The Filipinos are fair weather friends. We are not going to fight over the Spratly’s so why antagonize China with troops in the Philippines.

  • Jetzer Tigue

    Fair weather friends? We were America’s most loyal ally for decades. Need I remind you that we omitted from our history books the fact that 200,000 Filipinos died in America’s attempt to become a colonial empire.

  • Luke Lea

    The “Great Game” again. Why call it a game? Have we created a monster in China? When we let China into WTO, Clinton talked about how this would liberalize the state.

    But there are few signs of that happening. We think of the Chinese as nice people. They are over here. But in China they are not very nice to each other. You saw the Apple I-phone story in NYT. Why should we think they will be any nicer to us or their neighbors as they gain military power? Especially when you remember how “nice” we were to them in the 19th C.

    Currently China runs a quarter of a trillion dollar trade deficit with the US. Their average import tariff is 10% (ours is 1.7%) and their currency is over-valued 20% or more. They are as addicted to their export-led growth model as any heroin addict. They know no other way. It builds up their military capacity even as it undermines our own.

    Sure, it enriches American corporations and wealthy investors. At least for the time being. But it is pauperizing American working families (as is mass immigration, 150,000 per month) and shredding our social compact. (You don’t see that happening in Germany, btw.) How long before we see our China policy as the utopian fantasy it is?

  • Stuart Lyon

    Why are you including the Paracel islands? Those are in dispute and possible resolution between Vietnam and China. The Philippines have no claim, soldiers stationed, or oil wells in the Paracel islands, unlike the Spratly islands.

  • Jeff77450

    “Bob,” above, beat me to it: are Phillipines & Singapore going to pay for these U.S. military forces? (And-if-not-why-not since they will benefit)?

    @Luke Lea: “High five.”

  • Joe

    Jetzer Tigue-

    If it wasn’t for American defeating the Spanish, and later the Japanese, there would be no independent Philippines. The USA didn’t want a colony, we wanted a deep water port for our ships, and that is why we kept the Philippines after the Spanish defeat. The Philippines have been ruled a foreign power in some fashion or another since the 16th century, and without US help you would have never been independent. Since WW2, the Philippines have been living off the US security blanket. The Filipino people have neglected to invest in any credible defense which is a necessity for any nation-state. Also, the fair weather friend is a correct response. The Filipinos left Iraq after 1 death. The Filipinos barely have an army, they have no functional air force, and have no functional navy. In the light of these facts, the Filipinos are not any ally, but an expense.

  • An


    Singapore and the Philippines are two different issues. Singapore is a true American ally and spends money on credible defense. For example, they are one of the original 9 nations that invested in the F-35. They contributed $150 million in research funds but have yet to formally commit to buying the plains. They currently fly US planes such as the F-15. They probably will end up buying 100 or so F-35 jets after 2020. Singapore and Australia have the most modern militaries in South East Asia. Even though Singapore is ethnically Chinese, they are staunchly anti-communist (even though not democratic) and have been a close US ally. Singapore is not liberal in the Western political sense but they do respect human rights, are one of the least corrupt countries, and their leadership looks after the well being of the people. Singapore and the US were joined at the hip since their independence in 1965. The Singapore military is well trained and professional. While small, you can ask any one in PACOM and they will tell you Singapore military is a peer ally. They are not like some of our Middle EAstern allies, who would be hard pressed to fight themselves out of a paper bag. Our military appreciates and respects Singapore’s military capability. Furthermore, US Navy ships have been used Singapore for refueling and port calls since World War 2.

    Singapore’s economic and geographic location is even most important than military contribution. Singapore is in the Strait’s of Malacca which is the world’s most important sea lane. It accounts for a quarter of the world’s oil and trillions of dollars of world trade. Singapore is a free market economy and important trading partner of the US. In a military conflict with China, with the help of Singapore we could shut down China’s ability to import grain and oil from the middle east, not to mention other raw materials from Africa. I’m not saying we should do that, it’s US policy and strategic interest to hold open the sea lanes for all countries to prosper. US Economic growth in the 21st century is intimately tied with Singapore. We have few allies better than Singapore. Spending money on Littoral Combat Ships in the straits of malacca is one of the best investments this country can make.

  • Steven Rood

    Good you noticed — our institutional blog comes out Wednesdays (in the States) and I’ll write on this next week:

    I’m going weekly in obvious imitation of WRM:

    Abangan! (Wait for it!)

  • Steven Rood
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