LAST week’s geopolitical developments in the Asia-Pacific region exposed China’s true territorial expansion goals for this century—and millennium—by continuously building strong military fortifications in the South China Sea region it claims to inherently own.
Simultaneously it is bribing poor countries of Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Africa and South America with its One Belt, One Road infrastructure assistance.
Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, the bible of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) says “…to fight and conquer all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”
Recall that China’s leadership had silently made its 9-dash-line claim over almost all of the South China Sea, and in the UN almost immediately after China and its one-China policy was internationally recognized in the second half of the 1970s. It developed into man-made islands the reefs and rocks of the Spratlys, including the three reefs in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Reliable research entities have recorded, and Manila and Hong Kong newspapers and the international wire agencies have reported these, that China’s military has installed ballistic missiles and stationed destroyers, frigates, tankers, navy ships, coast guard ships and landed transports since the start of last year in three reefs—all within, and violating, the 200-mile EEZ of the Philippines.
In international law this amounts to invasion of another sovereign territory, and an act of war. But the Philippines, like all the Asean countries, have no military forces and war machines to equal China’s. And under President Rodrigo Duterte’s independent foreign policy, it can only protest diplomatically this Chinese virtual invasion.
On the other hand, China is not firing a single shot but warns or bullies Asean fishermen or any military vessel or aircraft it chooses to, including those from the US, South Korea, Japan and Vietnam. Beijing has apologized formally to Vietnam only in these close encounters because in several instances in the past, the Vietnames responded to Chinese provocations by burning Chinatown establishments in Vietnam.
International law experts have voiced concern over the presence of Chinese military planes and ships in the West Philippine Sea. They are strongly pushing the Philippines to file a formal diplomatic protest immediately.
Opinion writers in Manila have pointed out that the Chinese promises of financial and technical assistance are still much lesser than the official development assistance from Japan, the US, the EU countries, and direct investments from other Asean members. China is taking Duterte’s friendly foreign policy as subservience.
Thus the informal random question to our college students elicited this reply: “China is not sincere in its assistance to the Philippines. It has taken us for a cheap ride.”
In other words, the international confidence in and trustworthiness of, China as a partner in globalization is now really seriously in doubt. And these will most likely decline more depending how Beijing delivers on its aid promises vis-à-vis its military buildup in the South China Sea.
Another development likely to turn sour for China is the Washington announcement that the President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jung-un will hold their summit meeting in Singapore next June 12.
And it can be asked why did Kim secretly flew to Beijing again early last week to confer with Chinese President Xi Jinping? This was followed by the release of three South Korean-born Americans who were jailed by Pyongyang on charges of espionage.
A lot of logical questions can be asked by analysts in the wake of these events. Among them: Is Xi apprehensive Kim will accept the American condition of total halt of its nuclear ballistic rocket tests, irreversible and verifiable development of nuclear power for industrial energy requirement only as preconditions to economic aid from the US and lifting of the UN economic sanctions.
China uses the North Korean issue as a diversion of American concentration on the US-China trade war. US economic aid to North Korea can render the old China-North Korean alliance dating back to the Korean War in the early 1950s obsolete and could hasten the reunification the two Koreas.
A reunited Korean peninsula could be another one serious competitor to China in this age of globalization and render China’s economic slowdown in the next two decades faster. That will add to the domestic socio-economic problems for the Xi-controlled Standing Committee of the ruling Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.
Actually, when one compares what the US did after it won independence from Britain in 1776, the trend of Beijing’s international relations is obviously to copy what the 13 original independent states did to form an American federal government, annexed Texas and other southern states, then won the Spanish-American war in 1898.
The environment, however, is grossly different. The technological advances and the rise of the age of information in the current globalization environment were not present in the 18th and 19th centuries.
As of this writing, nothing new has been announced about the probable agenda of the Trump-Kim meeting in the next six weeks.
But this certainly can be interpreted as a move of the Trump administration to turn the American image in the Asean as one in strong support of its Northeast Asia policy, a vital cog in Washington’s economic-military alliance-building in the Asean region.
In terms of real geopolitics, this merely means the Philippines and the rest of the Asean members must keep a friendly line to all and never to be an enemy to anyone.
The temptation for a military alliance is strong at this point because the risk of a shooting war, caused by some miscalculating field army, navy or air force commander, is always present—human judgement error.
This is the reason for the QUAD, the new alliances between Japan and India, the US military agreements with Australia, and last week’s French-Australian summit meeting in Canberra.
Certainly, these concerns for national or regional security are real. And it should be the driving force for the Asean to integrate their individual economies faster in the next 20 years.
A peaceful and economically productive group of sovereign countries with minimum corruption, sustainable environment, biodiversity and cheap but clean source of renewable energy would attract foreign investments best.