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China Threatens War With Philippines

Is it payback time in Asia?

China has been remarkably patient as the US raised its profile in Asia, supported China’s neighbors over the South China Sea issue, pulled Myanmar out of its tight orbit around China and stepped up its military presence in the region. But a combination of Philippine and Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea has now created the first genuine test of America’s new Asia policy, and so far at least, China is taking a much tougher line.

The Scarborough Shoal standoff has escalated. Chinese media is threatening the Philippines with war. China’s state-run media has held forth with fiery editorials, like this one from Wednesday’s Global Times:

The Philippines needs to be taught a lesson for its aggressive nationalism. . . . For China, the standoff over Huangyan Island is a matter of sovereignty. And now Manila needs to be defeated in this area.

That doesn’t sound like a quest for liberal, win-win solutions for international debts. It doesn’t sound like the kind of things a ‘responsible stakeholder’ would say. And it doesn’t sound like a country committed to ‘peaceful rise’. The Telegraph reports:

China warned its citizens in the Philippines to “stay indoors” on Thursday as its state media warned of war over a month-long dispute in the South China Sea. . . .

Reports in Japan said five Chinese warships—including two guided missile destroyers, two frigates and a amphibious landing ship—had passed through waters close to Okinawa moving to Philippine reefs.

As Via Meadia has reported, the 1951 treaty between the US and the Philippines is interpreted by some in Manila as requiring the US to get involved on Manila’s side in disputes like this one — militarily, if that is what it takes. But, importantly, a State Department spokeswoman yesterday would not say the 1951 mutual defense treaty with the Philippines requires the United States to defend the Philippines against aggression. Her silence ought to disappoint the Philippines, which does not have the military capacity to face China alone (the Filipino Air Force doesn’t have a single combat-ready fighter jet).

Though the standoff has at times taken on an air of comedy (see the video below from Taiwanese news service, the consequences of this dispute will help shape the new geopolitics of Asia. Philippines President Benigno Aquino, whose government has gotten itself into a pickle by starting a contest it lacks the means to win, has signalled to China his willingness to discuss a business arrangement, separate from the Scarborough dispute, that would allow for joint exploration of the South China Sea’s energy resources.

Via Meadia thinks this is a great idea, and it is what American policy should be trying to promote, but the Philippines have gotten themselves into an awkward spot. There are a lot of people in China right now who want a clear win — a Philippine humiliation — rather than a nice face saving compromise. That isn’t just because they are nationalist hotheads who care passionately about the South China Sea; it’s also because from the standpoint of realpolitik China doesn’t want to create the impression that weak countries can get away with tweaking the dragon’s tail. If the Philippines are seen as gaining anything from the crisis, the Vietnamese, Koreans, Japanese and others will all think that the time has come to push China on these unresolved border issues.

America wants the region to stay quiet. We don’t want one crisis after another, and while we can’t let China run rampant, bullying its neighbors whenever it feels the need, we also don’t want to get sucked into an endless series of situations where we have to either throw an ally to the wolves or get into a high profile confrontation with China.

If our friends and allies want our backing in a crisis, they need to consult with us before the crisis breaks out, and if they provoke China’s wrath by taking steps that we think are ill judged, we can’t let ourselves be dragged into the fight. On the other hand, they need to know that we will stand with them if they have pursued a thoughtful and moderate course — and even if they haven’t, we may be compelled to rally to their side if China’s response to their ill-judged provocations goes too far.

America’s new Asian policy is the right thing to do, but doing it well is going to be hard. Encouraging Asian states to resist Chinese expansionism without signalling to their politicians that America will back them up no matter what isn’t easy to do.

In the new era of world history now starting up, American diplomats and presidents are going to have to spend a lot more time studying maps of the waters around Asia than they have in the past, and they are going to have to master the intricacies of the territorial disputes that, increasingly, involve important American interests.


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  • thibaud

    Superb analysis of a subject the author knows well.

  • Jim.

    So who has an aircraft carrier group to send to the region to help calm things down?

    It shouldn’t be just the US. Allies like Australia and Japan should start shouldering some of the burden too.

  • Anthony

    “…We also don’t want to get sucked into an endless series of situations where we have to either throw an ally to the wolves or get into a high profile confrontation with China…. American diplomats and presidents are going to have to spend a lot more time studying maps of the waters around Asia….”

    As you know WRM, multipolarity increases opportunity for aggression/war; power imbalances and miscalculation also result. From your treatment of issue, it appears Philippines may have underestimated China’s resolve vis-a-vis South China Seas.

    Now, we must insure peace in region with potential growing hegemon – welcome to 21st century geopolitics where U.S. is critical variable in Asian security equation.

  • Kenny

    Won’t this drive more of China’s neighbors into America’s arms?

  • Ken

    Younger folks won’t may not remember, let alone KNOW, that the Philippines wanted the U.S. OUT of their country. So we closed Clark and just in time as Mt. Pinatubo covered it with ash not long later.
    I have Filipino heritage, but the 1st American-born in our clan.
    This is what all y’all wanted…and since you said (with Clark’s closure) that you don’t need or want us there, then YOU deal with problems that YOU start!

  • Richard Quigley

    It probably would have helped if your State Dept. had long ago let the government of the Philippines know just what its policy expectations were for the South China Sea. That is if, in fact, State had any idea of what that policy might be.

  • Mrs. Davis

    The ChiComs know they can roll US Presidents. The did with Bush on the P-3 and Clinton on LORAL. Their finger prints will be found on the banking crisis of ’08. Having stolen most of our technology, they are now pushing on the Philippines. And now WRM makes excuses for the cookie pushers not getting enough notice from the Philippinos. Why weren’t they ready to play by Chicago rules? It’s not like this is a surprise.

  • Luke Lea

    Don’t want to “get into a high profile confrontation with China”? Why not? Shouldn’t we at least explore the option? Better now than later maybe. Besides, China is obviously not going to reform on its own. It literally doesn’t know how — plus the entrenched interests in going on as they are are overwhelming. Who is this country anyway?

  • Andrew Jackson

    It’s not impossible for David to defeat Goliath

  • Larry

    The Philippines is a poor ally, not worth fighting for. We had 2 huge military bases there Clark and Subic Bay. They threw us out in the early 1990s claiming national sovereignty.
    In Iraq they were the first ally to pull out on us even though they were in a noncombat role.
    Finally a few years ago they convicted a US marine there on trumped up rape charges. I remember the trial where the prosecutors were not seeking the truth but but claiming their rights under sovereignty and national pride to try the Marine. The US marine was convicted but released several months later, to the embarrassment of Filipino officials, after the alleged victim recanted her charges after emigrating to the US.

  • Neshobanakni

    The Filipinos have punched us from behind and run away whenever they’ve had the chance for two decades. Better to help our friends in the area, rather than childish back-stabbers. They were ashamed to host our bases – time for sweet comeuppance.

  • Greg Q

    I’m sorry, but you are wrong. It is entirely in the US interest to let China know that they will never accomplish anything by trying to throw their weight around militarily. So no matter how this started, it’s to our best interest to back the Philippines.

    If China wants to get ahead in the world make them do it our way. You can compete economically, or not at all.

  • http://STJobs.Sg Jaime M. Al-os

    China had showed how greedy they are at this times bullying their small neighbors.The present situation are a clear indication that they are not fair when this country becomes a superpower in the future.

  • Deadly Sting

    We are ready to slay the red dragon

  • ryan sioson

    After all this years, China has been a good neighbor from our country Philippines but now they are showing there true colors.. Being greedy has also punishments from god..

    god knows and we all know that PHILIPPINES is the nearest to that island.. Common Sense..

  • Jabba Wookie

    The U.S. owes China a lot of money and is afraid to confront China. China does not need to steal technology from the Americans—the Americans gave them to China piece-by-piece when they had their electronic goods made there. America is pathetic and should stop pretending it can take on China. It cannot. China rules now.

  • lino gaw

    communist chinese are cowards. they just waited the americans to leave the philippines by the closure of the clark air base and subic naval base. they do not realize that panatag (scarborough) shoal is the main route for the us submarines and naval fleets visiting the philippines. any wrong move from communist china intruding the philippine seas would mean the start of ww3. i advise the chinese to open their eyes and start thinking of the consequences.

  • http://Facebook Junior

    This would definitely start WW3…Iran and Russia might follow their lead. Remember it takes 3. I will do whatever it takes to defend my homeland even if I have to go back there to join Philippine Army.

  • http://Yahoo karan

    I feel china should stop back asap before its too late. .

  • jenny gonz@g@

    China is very ambitious. Before you can be a superpower, learn first how to respect your neighboring country. You must learn how to depend your territory legally not bully. Respect international laws and u can be a superpower someday, hopefully. Lastly, learn first the international laws and do not make ur own laws.

  • Sam

    American the great Satan and war monger once again wants to divide and conquer asians  alike like it has done around the world.

    The CIA had caused so much death & destruction directly & indirectly around the world. Vietnam & Cambodia to name a few,in Asia.

    Wonder what they are scheming now to cause more death and destruction to keep the American way of life!

    It is an open secret what the CIA has done from de-classified files of its past activities…a must read.(search web on jesse ventura,CIA)etc

    USA is too smart to directly fight a bloody war with China,it will be Asians Vs Asians to make us look like a weak & intolerant People.

    China will never let Uncle sam & and its similar war mongering imperialists carve up China again! We havent forgotten…

    The Chinese & filipinos can be friends & business partners for resources ,but of course this means Uncle Sam wont get a cut…can one start to see the reason for Uncle Sam to meddle in this region?

    Making filipinos worry about China as a threat will first make the Filipines buy more arms from the US war industry…”tanks sell on wall st” (watch The ugly American starring Marlon Brando)

    I wouldnt want US dollars & sell my daughters when theyre in town.History tells us the Japanese chopped up a foreigner on the streets of Tokyo averaging one a month… As a result of anger from being forced to open their economy to the west in the old old days.perhaps they didnt like how their daughters were treated.They still dont when the yanks are in town.

    Yeah dont you just love those samurai swords…!



  • Clark Ferrer

    I hate china so much now, US and Philz for the win!!!!!

    [vulgar and hostile expressions indicating immature anger removed -ed] when they lost why because philz is not the only country that is affected by chinas crulety. india, taiwan, tiebet and of course vietnam were affected aswell.

  • richie

    Slay the dragon? Philippines? seriously? just the dragon’s fart will turn the Philippines upside down!!

  • Maharlika

    Its a wake up call to all Filipino. who is really the enemy,,, Chinese using some Filipino activist to become anti american. Chinese using our resources,, to become more use to them.
    when we will open our minds that this parasite,
    is already in our system, Hope that our government can do, and Filipino citizen can do anything to start something,, to eliminates , this parasites in our country.

    anti Chinese…..

  • Ivy

    There is a simple statement and conclusion about this one…. :))

    The Chinese people are bullying the Philippines, and sad to say they don’t even notice that… *sigh* I hope that this kind of system would be changed soon.

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