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Whose side?

/ 12:29 AM March 20, 2014

Whose side would you rather be on? The United States that tries to force free trade on countries, or China that tries to annex portions of your land (and sea)?

I argued at the time that it was foolish, a sign of national insecurity, to kick the United States out of Subic and Clark. A country confident of itself would welcome the protection the US bases would provide. Now I realize this will be strongly opposed by many, and I accept that. But may I ask you to think a little more about the longer term aspects of where the world, where Asia, is heading.

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Australia has not only agreed to a US military presence but has also welcomed it, recognizing how it helps provide a needed balance in the region.

The Australian government has said that the top priorities of the bilateral agreement were “the deployment of the US Marines over five years, the greater use of Australian Air Force bases for American aircraft and, in the longer term, the prospect of increased ship and submarine visits to the Indian Ocean through a naval base outside Perth, on the country’s west coast.” We should be all partners in a more balanced power presence in Asia.

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I went to school in a private boys’ school and was a bit of a nerd, so I got picked on by the bullies in class because I couldn’t defend myself to any significant effect. Then one of the kids in class became my friend. His nickname was “Tank” and he was twice the size of anyone else. No one touched me anymore.

We had a “Tank,” and we kicked it out. I think there’s little doubt that had the Americans been still here, China would not be so belligerent. And if they were, the US response would have been much stronger. The Philippine government’s agreement to sign a new contract for US presence here is a very wise decision, and will help. But it’s a bit of “too little, too late.” It won’t be sufficient deterrent to China—a China that is acting like a schoolyard bully exercising its muscles without the maturity to consider the correctness of its decisions.

To say it has “indisputable right” to the areas in contention is very, very disputable. If China truly believes it does own these areas, then it should be able to prove so in an international court of law. That it refuses to go to court says only one thing to me: It doesn’t have a strong case. It is doing a Putin, annexing what isn’t his. Would those so-called “nationalists” who kicked the Americans out of the bases prefer that the Philippines be annexed as a province of China? Absurd? Well, maybe China won’t go that far, but can you be sure? What are its plans for the next 50 years? I think it’s pretty obvious that it wants to be the No. 1 economy in the world, which can lead to a desire to also be the politically strongest. Its massive increase in military spending isn’t being done for no reason.

China’s defense spending increased by more than two-thirds to $166 billion in 2012 from $97 billion in 2007. A report by the US Naval Institute noted that China has “more than 60 submarines, 55 amphibious ships, and 85 missile-equipped small ships.” The report also said that the economic giant is expected to launch 50 new naval ships this year. Why this massive buildup? There’s little need to spend so much for defense—defense from whom? Who is a military threat to China? No one I know of. So, why spend so much if not to dominate? I’m scared.

I don’t disagree at all with President Aquino’s reference to Hitler. You’ll remember that the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, agreed to not oppose Hitler’s annexation of Sudetenland, as a gesture of goodwill and to ensure the peace Hitler promised. It triggered a world war that lasted six years and killed 85 million people (almost the total population of the Philippines). I fully support the President on this one.

Now I don’t, for a minute, think we’re heading that far, but what Vladimir Putin and Li Keqiang are doing could be only a first step in worse to come, not just a one-off event. They should be stopped now.

Hosing off simple fishermen and preventing a food-bearing ship from delivering food to a small group of people on a shoal well within the Philippines’ internationally accepted territory (its exclusive economic zone) are not the actions of a responsible government wanting to live peacefully within an international community.

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Reinforcing my stand (for those who may feel I’m hitting too hard on China) is that the Philippines is not the only one that is questioning China’s actions. There’s Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and, in an even stronger confrontation, Japan, where China has not only claimed ownership of some islands but also declared a no-fly zone where planes must in effect get its permission to fly.

I have long ago argued that Bashar al-Assad should have been stopped at the beginning when it was easy to do so. The world wouldn’t because it didn’t “want to interfere in another nation’s internal affairs.” Well, an estimated 140,000 dead Syrians may not have agreed with that. Getting rid of Assad is now far, far more difficult and costly.

China and Russia must be stopped now while it’s possible. Later on it may well not be. To be absurd (or is it?), what if China decided it wanted Palawan? Could the Philippines, even with US support, stop them? Like in Ukraine, now the opposition to Putin is tempered by Europe’s need for gas to run its power plants. The United States is economically intertwined with China—in trade and investment. It can’t just do what is right. Scary. There’s that word again.

US boots on the ground—yes, please. But let’s ensure it’s a good deal where the Philippines is well recompensed.

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TAGS: China, column, defense, national security, Peter Wallace, US bases
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