Getting to Know U.S. Foreign Policy

Rhetorical flourishes that America would come to the rescue of the Philippines in the event of an armed attack must be taken for what they are, balloons of hot air.

By Ben Lim*
Posted by CenPEG

Foreign Secretary Alberto del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin should have been more diligent students of American foreign policy. They should have paid steady attention to the latest policy pronouncements by both President Barrack Obama and State Secretary Hilary Clinton on China and the Asia Pacific region instead of rushing to be American agents in Asia as in rallying our ASEAN allies to help America contain China in Indonesia and preventing the ASEAN summit in from crafting a Code of Conduct with Chinese participation in Cambodia, without thinking clearly on the implications of their actions will help secure Philippine national interests.

For all of Secretary del Rosario’s inspirational effort to help implement American foreign policy objectives in the Asia Pacific region, a year later, it has become clear that his efforts were for naught. For instance when he asked for American help in our dispute with China over the Reed Bank in the South China Sea, he was sold a decommissioned Hamilton Cutter, without its sophisticated electronic capability and fire power, which the Armed Forces of Philippines has announced as the country’s largest and most modern war vessel. Indeed in the showdown at the Scarborough Shoal, the Philippine Navy’s warship looked pathetic.

Yet it cannot be said that Washington or the Armed Forces of the Philippines is unaware of China’s naval capability. The Chinese Navy (PLAN), except for the U.S., has more naval resources than all of navies of Asia Pacific region combined. Again when Secretary del Rosario, invoking the Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the United States, asked for America to intervene in its latest dispute with China over the Scarborough Shoal, Secretary Clinton said that “the United States will help build the Philippines’ sea patrol capability but will not take sides in that nation’s standoff with China at a disputed shoal in the South China Sea.” 

This means that for all of Secretary Clinton’s reaffirmation about U.S. commitment to its mutual defense treaty with the Philippines, and to freedom of navigation and regional security, it is becoming clear that the contested territories in the South China Sea are not considered as Philippine territory that warrant defense under the treaty. Worse, the joint statement indicated that about the only help the Philippines will get from Washington is the transfer of another decommissioned Hamilton Cutter this year.

No doubt an additional Cutter will help increase the Philippines’ maritime security capabilities compared to East Timor or Vietnam, but not the capability to neutralize China PLAN. Worse a question might be raised on whether PNoy’s purchase of American military vessels is exempted from public bidding or Philippine procurement laws. Former President Gloria Arroyo is in jail precisely for these oversights.

By now it should be abundantly clear to PNoy and Secretary del Rosario that President Obama has pursued a policy that has centered on a continuation of the half-century containment of China, the promotion of Free Trade Agreements crafted to further the interests of U.S.-based banks and transnational corporations and the strengthening of America’s military capability in Asia in its acquisition of a new military base in Darwin, Australia, all designed to further U.S. military dominance in the region. Rhetorical flourishes that America would come to the rescue of the Philippines in the event of an armed attack must be taken for what they are, balloons of hot air.

Moreover, Secretary Clinton’s declaration: “The United States supports a collaborative diplomatic process by all those involved for resolving the various disputes that they encounter…We oppose the threat or use of force by any party to advance its claims,” sounded more like an earnest admonition, reproof or a reprimand to our move to use the del Pilar warship to arrest the Chinese fishermen in a contested territory and above all for asking American to intervene against China.

On the meaning of mutual defense and our expectation that America would come to the rescue of the Philippines in case of armed attack, Secretary del Rosario should be reminded that during World War II, even when the Philippines was a colony of America, when the country was attacked by the Japanese Imperial Army, the only help we got from America was the promise of its Provost Marshal: “I shall return.” Three years after, General Macarthur indeed returned, but only after the Philippines was razed to the ground and the Japanese soldiers butchered millions of Filipinos. Posted by CenPEG

*The author is formerly a UP professor and now a faculty of Ateneo de Manila University. Lim is also a Senior Fellow of CenPEG.

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