This thesis (originally posted on the Defense of the Republic of the Philippines forum on August 3, 2018) attempts to answer the hotly debated question:
“What is happening to Philippine policy with China and the West Philippine Sea???”
While the defense of the Republic of the Philippines is the focal point for this thesis, there can be no effective discussion about defense if it is narrowly confined to weaponry and military / law enforcement considerations alone.
You can’t talk about a birthday cake by focusing on the icing while paying no attention to the underlying cake.
Policies made outside the military sphere define what can be done within that sphere. For that reason, proper understanding of the Duterte administration’s approach to the China problem in the West Philippine Sea — regardless of whether the reader agrees with it or not — is a precondition for meaningful discussions about Philippine sovereignty.
The best way to read this thesis is to proceed linearly, from start to finish, in the order it was written. However, being 30 pages long, this thread index was created to facilitate navigation. Each sub-topic is given it own summary, thus allowing the reader to jump directly to topics of greater interest.
At the end of the day, the goal of the thesis isn’t to advocate any single political point of view. It is merely to understand what the current administration is attempting to do . . .
. . . without the noise of partisan politics.
Once that understanding is achieved, then — and only then — can the average Filipino come up with an INFORMED opinion of prevailing policies, and meaningfully argue for OR against these policies.
|Chinese timing||By 2014, China knew that conditions were right to advance its interests at the expense of its rivals — and it did.|
|United States||The US was in no shape to mount a conventional war. The two wars-without-end in Iraq and Afghanistan had left the US electorate with little appetite for yet another armed conflict.|
|Japan||China’s shipbuilding spree has eclipsed the Japanese Coast Guard, both in terms of number and size of vessels.|
|Australia||. . . struggling to contain China within its own sphere of influence: from Vanuatu to Papua New Guinea.|
|ASEAN||While much has been said about Duterte’s refusal to use ASEAN as a venue for protesting Chinese actions in the West Philippine Sea, ASEAN had already been defanged years earlier when Cambodia actively blocked any attempt association statements that would be unfavorable to China. First in 2012, then again in 2016.|
|The scramble for a PH response||Open war with China and surrender are invalid options. Justice Antonio Carpio prefers a “third option” that hides behind the Mutual Defense Treaty with the US and diplomacy. But how viable is this option?|
|Evaluating the 3rd option: UNCLOS||The UNCLOS ruling invalidated China’s 9-dashed line. But it did not actually affirm Philippine sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea|
|Evaluating the 3rd option: MDT||The US-PH MDT was deliberately crafted so that it would not commit the United States to support the Philippines if it did not agree with Philippine claims. Not all mutual defense treaties are created equal.|
|Treaty that created NATO||The US explicitly guarantees support in the event a member of the NATO alliance is attacked. The commonly held perception is that the Philippines enjoys the same protection. Careful perusal of the MDT shows otherwise|
|Treaty between the US and Japan||While the US-JP treaty did not guarantee an automatic response, US policy has recognized JP sovreignty over the Senkakus. It is important to understand why the US felt compelled to support Japan|
|Vietnam’s losses||Despite being 8th largest importer of weaponry in the world, whose inventory includes everything from Scud medium-range ballistic missiles, modern submarines, frigates, multi-role fighters, and surface-to-surface missiles, Vietnam is at the very least in a stalemate with China it can’t hope to outlast.
The Philippine strategy under Duterte, in contrast, has its sights on a more favorable outcome.
|Indonesian calculations||In addition to a regionally strong military, Indonesia has a lock on certain critical Chinese exports which China needs, is on the outer edge of China’s claims and is not as important as the Philippines and Vietnam, China officially recognizes Vietnam’s claims.|
|Defining the parameters of the problem||A Philippines that defiantly stands up for itself, but lacks, the military strength of Vietnam, the economic resilience and geographical distance of Indonesia, and is dependent on allies that are either threatened by China or are embroiled in other domestic and geopolitical concerns, could very well become low-hanging fruit for a display of Chinese political power. Not so much for international consumption, but for the benefit of the enemy that the Chinese leadership fears most: internal Chinese politics.|
|The way forward||War is clearly not an option, for reasons already detailed earlier and as outlined by the President in his speech above. Surrender would violate the constitution, and is therefore an equally invalid option. The ability to hide behind our allies is questionable as is the validity of the opposition’s 3rd option.
Duterte needed a 4th option
|The 4th option||If China were a bully, Option 1 (war) would have started a fight with the bully that could only end with us in either a wheelchair or the grave. Option 2, surrender, would leave us with nothing. Option 3 (Carpio, et. al.) would have us pick a fight with the bully while hiding behind a big, but distracted neighbor that retains the option to go to the movies whenever he wants . . . regardless of our fitness to resort to option 1 when we are left alone.
Option 4 would have the bully wonder why he had to act like a douche bag in the first place . . . and learn to play nice. It would not make the bully go away, but would essentially make him leave us alone. All the while . . . wondering who we would side with if he ever decided to picked a fight with our big neighbor.
|What has been prevented||Fishermen are no longer being water-cannoned away from Panatag. Despite having been occupied since 2012, with island-building campaign gaining momentum, China hasn’t built on anything on Panatag.|
|What has already, or is currently, being done||Photographic evidence points to improvements on garrisons in the KIG that weren’t done in the previous administration|
|Implementing the 4th option|
|Step one: Rebooting PH-CN relations||Implement a variation of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” adage, and flipped the strategy into: “to make a friend of my enemy, make him feel like we have a common enemy”. This is why Duterte is openly bad mouthing our allies — who now actually understand that this is all essentially geopolitical theater as part of a plan to jump-start PH-CN relations.
The administration is banking on the strength of US-PH relationships, as well as of those of its traditional allies, to “absorb” the optics of Duterte’s over-selling of its Chinese charm offensive. After all, if it really were possible to undo years of good relations with mere words . . . then those relationships really weren’t as strong advertised.
|Step two: Acclimatize China to submitting to Philippine law||This is about training the dragon to obey commands . . . and setting up test cases to measure compliance.|
|Step three: Ongoing cooperation||China’s greed, not Philippines weapons, will keep China under control.
This would require even greater commercial engagement with China. So much so that it would actually compel China to respect Philippine law and Philippine claims, to avoid jeopardizing these investments. This would flip the tables on China from one where the Philippines feared Chinese embargoes on Philippine goods to one where China will experience “economic pain” should it choose to violate Philippine interests.
|Continued build up of Philippine economic defenses||A sustainable response to Chinese aggression isn’t just about buying weaponry, it is actually about making the Philippines — as a country — globally competitive.
This is where the build-build-build initiative comes in: Using the dragon’s own resources to create the financial whip to keep him in line.
|Learn from the experiences of Sri Lanka, et. al.||This topic outlines how countries fall into China’s debt trap, and how the Philippines actually differs from these in-progress economic disasters.|
|Pakistan’s gamble||85% of Pakistan’s debt is Chinese. But who REALLY has who under control, in light of Pakistan’s geopolitical calculation . . . when Pakistan’s economic corridor actually starts on their China’s equivalent to Mindanao?
|Israel & Indonesia: Dancing with a dragon||If loans with China are really recipes for disaster, why are Israel and Indonesia taking part in the Belt & Road Initiative?|
|A winning endgame rather than a strategy for “how not to lose”||Open war and surrender are unacceptable options. Justice Carpio’s preferred “third option” — which puts all its faith on the US-PH Mutual Defense treaty, without a proper assessment of how that treaty really works — actually lacks a meaningful end-game, and is prescription for “how not to lose” rather than a proper strategy for winning.
To achieve what Carpio wants to do, Duterte’s “4th option” needs to be given the leeway to work. The goal of the 4th option is to give China a incentive to respect Philippine law and obey Philippine instructions. That incentive is based on the threat of financial retaliation — not military force.
|Responding to Chinese aggression||A thought exercise about how to respond to China in a future conflict|
|Trade War (TW)||Punishing China economically|
|Military Action (MA)||Understanding what it REALLY takes to have our allies commit to the Philippine cause. Duterte’s “4th option” needs to happen before Carpio’s “3rd option”|