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http://fpif.o rg/a-brewing-sto rm-in-the-western-pacific/
A Brewing Storm in the Western Pacific
By Walden Bello , July 23, 2013 .
A storm is brewing in the Western Pacif ic. As the Asia-Pacif ic region descends into a period of destabilizing conf lict, the Philippines is quickly becoming a f rontline state in the U.S. strategy to contain China—the central thrust of the Obama administration’s so-called “Pivot to Asia.” In the most recent development, the Philippine government has of f ered the United States greater access to its military bases. China’s controversial moves in the Western Pacif ic have served as a convenient excuse f or heightened U.S. military presence in the region. In particular, Beijing’s claim of the whole South China Sea (now also called the West Philippine Sea) as Chinese territory has allowed the United States to portray itself as indispensable f or protecting the region’s smaller countries f rom Chinese hegemony. A one-time U.S. colony and ally, the Philippine government has been especially receptive to Washington’s siren call. July 24 marks the f irst anniversary of Beijing’s creation of “Sansha City” to “administer” the whole West Philippine Sea and the islands and terrestrial f eatures it claims. Among these are the Spratly Islands, nine of which are claimed and occupied by the Philippines, along with Scarborough Shoal, Ayungin Shoal, Panganiban Reef , and Recto Bank, all of which are claimed by the Philippines. T he last f ew months have seen a series of provocative Chinese moves. T hese include the occupation of Scarborough Shoal, or Bajo de Masinloc, by up to 90 Chinese ships, which have barred Filipino f ishers f rom the area; an increased Chinese military presence at Ayungin Shoal; and a Chinese general’s brazen presentation of the so-called “Cabbage Strategy.” T he thrust of the Cabbage Strategy, Major General Z hang Z haozhong explained, was to surround Bajo de Masinloc, Ayungin Shoal, and other Philippine territories with a massive Chinese naval presence to starve Filipino detachments and prevent reinf orcements f rom reaching them. T he Nine-Dash Line Maritime Grab What China adduces as a legal basis f or its aggressive moves is a note verbale that Beijing submitted to the United Nations on May 7, 2009. It unilaterally asserted China’s “indisputable sovereignty” over all the islands in the West Philippine Sea and their “adjacent waters/relevant waters.” Accompanying the note was the inf amous “nine-dash line” map demarcating China’s claims in the region. No of f icial explanation f or the nine-dash line was provided at that time or since, though there have been unof f icial ref erences to the islands and waters of the West Philippine Sea being ancestral Chinese territories, and to their inclusion in maps of the def unct Nationalist Chinese regime that date back to the late 1940s. Among the brazen claims of the nine-dash line document is that the nine Spratly Islands and terrestrial f eatures that have long been a municipality of Palawan, a province of the Philippines, belong to China. T he Kalayaan Island group is about 370 kilometers (230 miles) f rom Palawan and some 1,609 kilometers (1,000 miles) f rom China. A clear implication is that the Bajo de Masinloc, which is 137 kilometers (85 miles) f rom the province of Z ambales and is an integral part of it, also belongs to China, which is 700 kilometers (434 miles) away.
Yet another assertion is that the Philippines, and the f our other claimants to all or part of the to South China Sea (Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam), are not entitled to their 200 Nautical Mile Exclusive Economic Z ones (EEZ s) under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), since the whole area f alls under China’s “indisputable sovereignty.” What most of the other claimants are lef t with are only the territorial waters that extend 12 nautical miles f rom their respective coasts. But the South China Sea disputes go beyond the interests of the six claimant countries. For what China is saying with its nine-dash line is that a body of water that is 3.5 million square kilometers in size—which borders six states, and through which transits one third of the world’s shipping—is the equivalent of a domestic waterway like Lake Michigan in the United States. If allowed to stand, many analysts conclude that the nine-dash line claim will amount to one of the greatest maritime grabs in history. China’s Motives China’s interest in the rich f isheries and oil and gas reserves of the South China Sea is longstanding. Its behavior, however, has grown more aggressive recently. T here are two theories about the mainsprings of Chinese behavior. T he f irst says it stems f rom insecurity. China’s increasingly aggressive stance stems less f rom expansionist intent than f rom the insecurities brought about by high-speed growth f ollowed by economic crisis. Long dependent f or its legitimacy on delivering economic growth, China has recently experienced domestic troubles related to the global f inancial crisis that have lef t the Communist Party leadership groping f or a new ideological justif ication. It has f ound this in virulent nationalism. T he second theory is that China’s moves ref lect the cold calculation of a conf idently rising power. It aims to stake out a monopoly over the f ishing and energy resources of the West Philippine Sea in its bid to become a regional, and later a global, hegemon. But whatever the source of its provocative posture, Beijing’s moves have alarmed its neighbors. At the meeting of its f oreign ministers at the end of June, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) reminded China of its “collective commitment under the  Declaration of Conduct [of Parties] to ensuring the resolution of disputes by peacef ul means in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), without resorting to the threat or use of f orce, while exercising self -restraint in the conduct of activities.” But more disturbing is the f act that Beijing may be f orcing them, including Washington’s f ormer enemy Vietnam, into the hands of the of the United States by allowing Washington to portray itself as a military savior or “balancer” to Beijing. If China f eels threatened by the closer military relations the United States is developing with its neighbors, it largely has itself to blame. T he Pivot Obama’s so-called Pivot to Asia is not novel. It is simply a return to the pre-9/11 global military posture of the George W. Bush administration, which redef ined China f rom being a “strategic partner” to a “strategic competitor.” T he “Contain China” strategy was put on hold af ter 9/11, owing to Washington’s drive to win allies f or its “War on Terror.” But while it is not new, there is an urgency to the containment strategy under Obama owing to developments in the intervening decade. To many analysts, the Pivot actually represents a retreat f rom the comprehensive global military dominance that the neoconservative f action of the U.S. ruling class attempted under Bush. It is a f eint, a maneuver designed to serve as a cover f or a limited retreat f rom America’s disastrous intervention in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. It is an attempt by Washington to retreat to an area f or imperial power projection that it sees as more manageable than a Middle East that is running out of control. To be sure, Washington has always treated the Western Pacif ic like an American lake. At its height in the
post-World War II era, the U.S. presence amounted to that of a transnational garrison state spanning seven countries and political entities in the Western Pacif ic and Australia. Nevertheless, the Pacif ic Pivot has intensif ied the already intense militarization of the area. Sixty percent of U.S. naval strength has been shif ted to the Western Pacif ic. T his has been accompanied by the accelerated deployment of U.S. Marine Corps units f rom Okinawa to Guam and Australia. U.S. Special Forces continue to participate in the campaign against radical Islamists in the Southern Philippines, while conducting amphibious and naval exercises with Philippine military units near the disputed Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal. T he most recent development is that the Philippine government will allow greater U.S. access to Philippine bases, including the f ormer massive U.S. naval complex at Subic Bay. Twenty years af ter giving up its bases in the country, the United States is back with a bang in the Philippines. T he U.S. build-up in the Philippines, some Filipino commentators have pointed out, is self -def eating, since the dynamics of conf lict between the superpowers have set in, marginalizing any ef f ective resolution to the territorial disputes that Washington’s military presence was supposed to f acilitate in the f irst place. Tokyo’s Opportunism U.S.-China sparring is worrisome enough, but there is a third source of destabilization in the region: Japan. Right-wing elements there, including the current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have taken advantage of China’s moves in the West Philippine Sea and Japan’s dispute with Beijing over the deserted Senkaku Islands to push f or the abolition of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which prohibits war as an instrument of f oreign policy and prevents Japan f rom having an army. T he aim is to have a f oreign and military policy more independent f rom the United States, which has managed Tokyo’s external security af f airs ever since Japan’s def eat during the Second World War. Many of Japan’s neighbors are convinced that a Japan more independent f rom the United States will develop nuclear weapons. T hey f ear the prospect of a nuclear-armed Japan that has shed its post-war pacif ism and not yet carried out the national soul searching that in Germany embedded responsibility f or the atrocities of the Nazi regime in the national consciousness. T his f ailure to institutionalize and internalize war guilt is what allowed the mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto, to assert recently that the estimated 200,000 Korean, Chinese, and Filipino “comf ort women“—women captured into sexual slavery by Japanese troops in the Second World War—were “necessary” f or troop morale. T he Osaka mayor’s remarks came in the wake of another scandal: a mass visit in April by some 170 sitting legislators and members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet to the Yasukuni Shrine, the home of Japan’s war dead, which includes among its honorees 14 convicted war criminals. Japan’s neighbors have long condemned the ritual visit of Japanese leaders to Yasukuni as a sign of the country’s unrepentant attitude f or its conduct during World War II. Yet there are disturbing signs that long held stances toward Japan’s remilitarization are sof tening. T he Foreign Secretary of the Philippines, Albert del Rosario, f or instance, has gone on record recently to support Japanese rearmament in order to contain China’s hegemonic behavior. China’s aggressive territorial claims, Washington’s “pivot,” and Japan’s opportunistic moves add up to a volatile brew. Many observers note that the Asia Pacif ic military-political situation is becoming like that of Europe at the end of the 19th century, with the emergence of a similar conf iguration of balance of power politics. It is a usef ul reminder that while that f ragile balancing might have worked f or a time, it eventually ended up in the conf lagration that was the First World War. Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Walden Bello has written extensively on developments in the Asia Pacific region.
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