MANILA — Things have changed, said a Philippine columnist.
The US has not.
When the Visiting Forces Agreement was signed under Philippine President Joseph Estrada, China was not yet a world power. Evolving as one for 15 years under his successors Gloria Arroyo and Benigno Aquino III, the latter even allowed another executive pact in 2014, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that permitted US boots on the ground albeit within Philippine bases.
EDCA came about because of a series of mishandling by both the Philippines and the US State Department of the Scarborough standoff between the Philippine Navy and the China’s Coast Guard ending up with Manila losing control over the shoals.
EDCA was really to bolster Philippine position in a case against China that it filed in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague following the Scarborough incident. It was a mock maneuver however because first China did not participate in the arbitration and second while the Philippines chose a rule-based leverage, China proceeded to change the facts on the ground by occupying and reclaiming eight islands in the Spratlys, fortifying five of them.
While China was doing this, the US just watched and did nothing. Maybe Washington thought why should it do anything when already has the EDCA placing the Philippines again as a proxy “island aircraft carrier” in the Southeast. Or maybe the US was simply too busy in many other parts of the World?
Well it did not do its homework well, the EDCA is a ten-year contract ending in 2024, the Mutual Defense Treaty between the US and the Philippines is obsolete and vague, more like a paper tiger. Meanwhile, China has grown to liberate 800 million of its people from the poverty line, releasing much of its economy into a flash growth that made it the second strongest economy in the world, surpassing the US in consumer power through its mammoth population.
China spends only 10% of its wealth for its military, the US up to 52%. China revived its Old Silk Road and its maritime component tying to it more than hundred other countries worldwide through its Belt and Road Initiative, while the US is caught in useless wars short changing its own economy.
The United States is the largest operator of military bases abroad, with 38 “named bases” having active-duty, National Guard, reserve, or civilian personnel as of September 30, 2014. Its largest, in terms of personnel, is Ramstein AB, in Germany, with almost 9,200 personnel. The Pentagon stated in 2013 that there are “around” 5,000 bases total, with “around” 600 of them overseas. Between October 2015 and October 2017, the US fought in 76 countries. (Wikipedia)
Meanwhile, China’s comprises a Silk Road Economic Belt – a trans-continental passage that links China with south east Asia, south Asia, Central Asia, Russia and Europe by land – and a 21st century Maritime Silk Road, a sea route connecting China’s coastal regions with south east and south Asia, the South Pacific, the Middle East and Eastern Africa, all the way to Europe. The program is expected to involve over US$1 trillion in investments, largely in infrastructure development for ports, roads, railways and airports, as well as power plants and telecommunications networks. Its geographical scope is constantly expanding. So far it covers over 70 countries, accounting for about 65 per cent of the world’s population and around one-third of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). (Wikipedia)
The liberals in the Philippines and its sponsoring neo-conservative patrons in the US lost its foothold when they lost their 30 year stranglehold of Manila’s politics in 2016, when the people, in an exercise of a peaceful revolution through the ballot elected Rodrigo Roa Duterte as president, who reaffirmed Philippine independent foreign policy stipulated in the Constitution, rejected sinophobic tendencies of earlier heads of state and opened bilateral relations with Beijing.
China immediately committed $25 billion in various assistance package. Not to be outdone, Shinzo Abe was quick to pick up, enlarged Japan’s aid portfolio to $19 billion. It did not take long for South Korea, India and Russia to join the new bandwagon.
Meanwhile most of the US grants were heavily preconditioned upon further liberalizing the Philippines on matters of human rights, privatization and even LGBT entitlements, Americanizing local media and the academe, and hoping to keep at bay its former territory under narco-politics and Muslim piracy in its southern borders.
Bolstered by up to 87% popularity, Duterte however launched a vicious war on drugs, took a firm grip of government excesses especially on corruption and sustained a robust economy though a Build-Build-Build program with its new foreign partners, enabling it to buy frigates and fighter jets from South Korea; arms, munitions and land assets from China and Russia, missiles from Israel. Overnight it has developed a coast guard capability of its own and is surveying submarines from either Russia or South Korea.
Together with South Korean companies, it has revived its ship-building capability for both military and civilian uses. It has revived its Philippine National Railways through new trains and equipment bought from Indonesia and Japan, as well as built its own hybrid heavy duty versions combining diesel and electric motors.
Under Duterte, the Philippine posts a sustainable 6% growth average and continues to be a donor country out of the clutches of the Internal Monetary Fund.
It is now acknowledged as ASEAN’s informal leader, next only to China’s Xi Jingpin.
Anticipations are when ASEAN completes its Code of Conduct agreement with China, the United States will be reduced to a regional power. It is faking relevance through lawfare and information war. But Asia, after centuries of hostile engagements, has learned that there is a better life other than gunboat diplomacy.
With the wings of the Americans clipped, the world will be a safer place to live in. (Ismael amigo/sovereignph.com)