Just a few days ago, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague decided that it has jurisdiction over the filing of a case based on the UNCLOS by the Philippines in the matter of the islands known by different names in the sea known by different names: http://news.yahoo.com/hague-court-agrees-south-china-sea-row-172054472.html. More clippings on this may be found in the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/filipinogermanlearning. This article is to give a broader context to the issue and help understand what China is about today.
Global shipping routes
The Philippine situation
http://filipinogerman.blogsport.eu/the-island-issue/ already is about the island situation in the sea between Vietnam and the Philippines: Vietnam and the Philippines are planning to cooperate in this area against China, which is taking one island after the other. But the situation is more complex, I shall explain why shortly.
What did others want before?
The Philippines became an object of international politics because of the sea routes that intersect in front of its shores: http://filipinogerman.blogsport.eu/philippine-history-part-i-territory details this. Spain wanted the spice trade of the Portuguese and ended up with the galleon trade. The Iberians built up a global trading network.
America wanted to join the Asian trade, which was why they invaded the Philippines. This is detailed in this article: http://filipinogerman.blogsport.eu/philippine-history-part-ii-state-section-1/. America then had the Manifest Destiny doctrine as their political bible, the Monroe doctrine having been their assertion of control over the American continent.
What does China want now?
Now China is taking island after island, but what do they want, long-term, globally and locally? This has to be looked at, since Sun Tzu says in his Art of War:
He who knows oneself and knows his enemy cannot be defeated in a hundred battles.
The Chinese situation
Illusions and humilation
The Chinese used to see the whole world as tributary to them, and their own empire as “All Under Heaven”. People who came to trade were defined as “giving tribute”.
These illusions were shattered by the following:
1) Decadence under the Manchus – not real Chinese, in fact they forced their Chinese subjects to wear pigtails as a sign of being subjects.
2) major inflation caused in 1750 because the Empire was flooded by silver from the galleon trade with the Spanish. Too much of any currency in relation to production causes inflation, and the de facto currency in China was Mexican silver pesos. Until then, China had been Number one in the world not politically, but economically. Many inventions came from China.
3) In that economic and moral crisis, many Chinese resorted to opium, shipped by mainly Scottish smugglers. Attempts by the Chinese to stop them were answered by the Opium Wars.
4) China was finally occupied in parts by 8 powers – European powers, USA, Japan. The Boxer Rebellion was an uprising against these powers, with Chinese martial arts involved.
5) Annexation of Manchuria by the Japanese, the World War 2 with atrocities such as the Rape of Nanking.
The subsequent conflict between Communists and Nationalists caused more blood to flow, Communist rule as well with its brutal reorganization of Chinese society.
Recovery and revanchism
Hopes of Chinese liberalization under Deng Xiao Ping were dashed by the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Yet effective transition to turbocapitalism under a nominally Communist government brought economic progress which is the backbone of China’s resurgent political and military power. Rhetoric and actions from China amount to an ideology of revanchism for past humiliations.
The Chinese obviously want the Iberian, later British Empire trading routes of old AND the Silk Road: http://www.defenseone.com/politics/2015/06/how-china-building-biggest-commercial-military-empire-history/114853/. Harbors in Sri Lanka and Mozambique, natural resources interests in Africa, planned Nicaragua canal. Locally, they may want to control:
Nanyang (Chinese: 南洋; pinyin: nányáng; literally: “Southern Ocean”) is the Chinese name for the warmer and fertile geographical region south of China, otherwise known as the ‘South Sea’ or Southeast Asia. The term came into common usage in self-reference to the large ethnic Chinese migrant population in Southeast Asia, and is contrasted with Xiyang (西洋; Western Ocean), which refers to the Western world, and Dongyang (東洋; Eastern Ocean), which refers to Japan.
There are indications that Malaysia is close to becoming a Chinese client state. If China manages to make the Philippines into a client state, Vietnam will be isolated and China can squeeze them eventually. Southeast Asia could become like Eastern Europe before, when it was ruled by the Russians. Not a pleasant prospect.
Aircraft carrier Varyag passing the Bosporus
China bought the Varyag
aircraft carrier from the Ukraine indirectly, via a “travel agency” that said it would make a floating casino out of it, completely unarmed. Now the totally armed and refurbished former Varyag is in the Mediterreanean Sea, helping the Russians in Syria: http://www.debka.com/article/24909/A-Chinese-aircraft-carrier-docks-at-Tartus-to-support-Russian-Iranian-military-buildup-.
And thereby practicing aircraft carrier skills which they need to project seaborne power. They are also building their own aircraft carriers now. The have intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBM) with conventional warheads that could hit Southeast Asian cities. Chinese hardliners may want to get back the rule it imagined it had for millenia – ruling the world and “Nanyang”.
Other players involved
The overseas Chinese
Most overseas Chinese are Cantonese and Fujianese, who speak a very different dialect from the Northern Chinese. China’s economic boom after Deng Xiaoping was mostly driven by the more enterpreneurial Southern Chinese, while the present ideology that drives China is ultranationalism coming from the Communist Party. Northern and Southern China are very different, Peking is in the North.
Those who traded with Spain in Manila and came to form the bulk of the Filipino-Chinese or Chinoy population were considered pirates – the Manchu dynasty did not want foreign trade and forbade leaving shore. The only ones the Chinese officially traded with where the Portuguese in Macau – just like the Japanese traded with Portuguese “black ships” in Nagasaki. They were exclusive mercantilist partnerships. Many of the overseas Chinese do not identify with China, some still do inspite of ideological differences. Filipino-Chinese are mostly assimilated into society.
Turkics and Mongolia
Independent Turkic countries
In case China wants to control Eurasia and the old Silk Road with Russia, the Turkic nations might give resistance. Turkey is massively helping its brothers in Asia, where the original Ottomans came from. Turkic languages are very similar and it is easy for for someone with his mother tongue in that language to learn another. The Uigurs in Xinjiang are also Turkic and are not treated well by China. Sympathy for them may prevail. Also, Turkey is a member of NATO and militarily strong.
The Mongols are related to Turkics, are in between Russia and China, but have been doing business with the USA lately. They used to rule vast areas of Eurasia. They are known to sleep for centuries, but when they unleash their fury they are like volcanos that sleep for long. This could be a geopolitical Pinatubo waiting to happen. More here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonathanmiller/2012/09/14/mongolias-security-dilemma/
The United States
America has changed from the times of Manifest Destiny. Great powers that get humiliated may learn and become more human. America in 1898 was racist and imperialist, much like China today. Spain in 1521 was inhuman as well. But the United States witnessed two humiliations that would cause great soul-searching. The Vietnam war, and the recent wars of George W. Bush. America is learning, in fact they now have Foreign Area Officers to understand the countries better they are dealing with. America often bumbled when it came to culture, besides they are overextended.
Philippine strategic options
US aircraft carrier Pearl Harbor
Define Philippine national interests FIRST
The Philippines is usually very self-centered in the wrong way, hardly aware of what is going on around it. Self-centered should be different in the sense of knowing one’s own place in the world, one’s culture, one’s history and from that finally one’s destiny: http://filipinogerman.blogsport.eu/philippine-foreign-relations/. Only a tree with deep roots can grow to be tall. Does the Philippines want to be an object of other’s interest, or define it’s own. What are it’s true values – just to get by as comfortably as possible, and parrot whatever the next colonizer says? Spain a hundred years ago, America effectively until the early 1990s, China next?
I think the Philippines and the USA have more in common in terms of values than the Philippines and China. For this reason, the Philippines will not want to be under Chinese control. Japanese occupation of the Philippines in World War 2 was terrible for Filipinos – Chinese occupation or even just being a vassal state would be similarly bad if not even worse.
Age of Relationships, not Empires
This article says it all: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2004/03/the-man-who-would-be-khan/302899/
The morning I arrived at the American embassy in Ulan Bator, Wilhelm, newly promoted to colonel, greeted me wearing a gray suit, a white shirt, a tie, and suspenders. Born in 1959, raised in Orlando, Florida, and given formative military training at West Point and the Army Ranger school, in Fort Benning, Georgia, Wilhelm had risen through the ranks of the military as the Cold War order was falling apart. On the ground in several theaters of military operation, he had witnessed the messy collapse of communism in Eurasia. Known to warlords in Bosnia as “Mean Mr. Tom,” and to colleagues in Tajikistan as “Aga Tom,” he became the ultimate area expert on the former Soviet empire and its shadow zones, from Yugoslavia all the way to Mongolia.
Wilhelm’s plans for the morning I arrived were typical in their variety: he had to deliver personal thanks to the parents of a Mongolian-born U.S. Marine fighting in Basra, Iraq; he had to plan for a visit of the chief of the Mongolian military, Major General Tsevegsuren Togoo, to Washington; and he had to make arrangements for a visit by fourteen American brigadier generals. Also due to arrive was Lieutenant General Wallace Gregson, then the commander of the Third Marine Expeditionary Force (“III MEF” as it’s written, and “Three MEF” as it’s spoken). That last visit was the most important: if there were ever a land war in Asia—on the Korean Peninsula, for example—III MEF would play a role just as prominent as that played during the invasion of Iraq by I MEF, which marched from Kuwait to Baghdad.
… The statue had begun to flake and crumble, but its size and substance meant that it might well be around forever, like the abandoned statue in Shelley’s “Ozymandias.” It brought to mind ideas not just of brutality and domination but also of cheapness. “Everything the Soviets built looks like it was constructed by a high school shop class,” Wilhelm said, laughing.
“We should be careful of our own ambitions,” I said. “We don’t want to end up like the Soviets.”… “There is nothing we need to build here,” he answered, “except relationships.”
China pretends it is building relationships, but wants a global trading empire. The USA may be closer the new mindset, even if there are definitely still old-school hawks.
Short term perspectives
President Benigno Aquino III is following a three-pronged strategy:
- cooperation with the United States via EDCA.
- filing of a case based on the UNCLOS.
- Cooperation with Vietnam.
Multilateral initiatives together with Korea and Japan might be complementary. It is a strategy based on using international law and avoiding all provocations while having the USA as a partner in the background – without being totally dependent, as evidenced by the cooperation with Vietnam.
Medium term possibilities
In the next 10 years, the following could be done to improve the situation further:
- Build Philippine defense capabilities, especially naval and air force. Concentrate on true deterrence and not expensive purchases.
- Look for more possible allies: Indonesia, Thailand, maybe even India which treats its neighbors like China does, but is a rival of China.
Long term visions
Maritime awareness was mentioned by retired Commodore Plaridel Garcia as an important mindset for the Philippines. A long-term vision would be to make the Philippines a true thalassocracy, like the Visayans had in the old days, like the Kingdom of Tondo – or like the Delian thalassocracy in ancient Greece. It could be a very good and powerful partner of the USA, like Turkey is in its region. It may lead in the long run to China becoming more a normal partner in international relations. Russia was on its way to that, but is unfortunately back in the Age of Empires, mentally.
There was a Native American tribe, I read somewhere, that had this rule for its chiefs and elders:
Consider the next seven generations for every decision you make.
Filipino voters will have to ask their future leaders where they want to lead them, and how they want to do this.
Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 31. October 2015
P.S. Thanks to many contributors at the Society of Honor joeam.com – Joe America, LCPL_X, Karl Garcia – and the Chinese trolls who were the grain of sand that is at the core of every pearl.
P.P.S. The relationship to the USA must be managed carefully because it depends on the President in power. Donald Trump may be at best an American Berlusconi, at worst a US-style Putin.
Recommended reading regarding the US and the Philippines: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-javad-heydarian/the-philippines-and-ameri_b_8382080.html – thanks Joe America.