War gaming the Western Pacific: what it means to the Philippines
By Joe America
The Philippines is a chip in the Western Pacific, not a player. But it is a sentient chip, with a brain and the ability to spin itself about on the war table. Where the spinning chip lands is up to the President. And maybe the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Look at the lay of the land on the warboard. Notice the barrier formed by Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines. Is there any wonder why Chinese leaders went ballistic over US President Trump’s phone call with Taiwan’s President Tsai, as if she were independent from China?
Let’s consider the interplay of five nations in the Western Pacific and then project forward as to how the Philippines might fare. The goal of the article is to inspire readers to do their own thinking, researching, and projecting.
We hope you will share your thoughts with us in the discussion thread.
A few highlights on the five nations:
- China, the emerging big dog of the Western Pacific, is on a crash course to establish herself as the rightful center of the world. China’s militarized artificial islands have reconfigured the lay of the water West of the Philippines where the South China and West Philippine seas run together. But China is also probing East of the Philippines. Her head is up and her push outward for resources and claim of legitimacy is relentless. She is even pushing into the Americas, for resources in the South, and to buy companies and buy or steal technology in the North. China and the Philippines are doing a slow dance together at the moment, not a tight hug, but at arms length, with each step measured and carefully taken.
- The United States under President Trump is also on an aggressive path to prove its strength and dominance in the World. The slogan “America First” is meant for the international audience as well as domestic. Early initiatives have the US sowing discord in Europe, Mexico, and Australia. Trump is expected to challenge China. “Tear them down, build us up” seems a secondary slogan. Trump and Russia’s Putin are also dancing. The hug is embarrassingly close for some US Republicans. Philippine President Duterte is lounging along the wall waiting to cut in. Duterte wants to push the US out of the Pacific, it seems, although his top defense people are resisting.
- Russia is not so dominant in the Western Pacific, and one tends to wonder why President Putin would embrace President Duterte. Perhaps it is to irritate and diminish US power. Maybe it is to get in the way of China’s push for power. Or both. Russia seeks to become a big-time world player again, as she was before the Soviet Union collapsed. Russia undoubtedly likes President Trump’s initiatives to destabilize Europe because President Putin seeks to move back into Eastern Europe. It is hard to see why Trump enjoys dancing with Putin so much, but there is no accounting for love.
- The Philippines under President Duterte is flying fast and free, abandoning international morals with its focus on drug killings and death, pushing the US and Catholic Church away, warming up to China, and hugging Russia. And warm with Japan as well. The Philippine islands and harbors . . . and prime strategic location . . . would make a superior military holding, and rich basket of natural resources, for China, or Russia, or the US. President Duterte may just want his little independent empire with a train in Mindanao, but the war-game table run by the bigger players does not allow the chip to draw cards. A chip is a chip, after all.
- Japan is the dark horse, the fly in the ointment, the odd man out or in, who knows. Japan does not have many friends in Asia. Indeed, she has a hate relationship with China and Korea, fallout from history, and is in a bear hug with America. Japan, too, has a center of the world perspective, but has not developed the military capacity to scare anyone but China, whose military power is still young and being developed. Japan and the Philippines are getting close, likely because the Philippines wants investment and Japan is trying to keep the Philippines in the American arms. For her own protection. I mean, how would you like to be Japan squeezed between China and Russia with the US out of the Pacific as a military power?
So what we have here is four nations posturing for prominence, and one . . . the Philippines . . . “stuck in the middle with you”. Three of those nations are nuclear powers.
It is unsettling when the mind behind President Trump’s mouth, that of white supremacist Steve Bannon, says war between the US and China is probable within 10 or 15 years.
It is difficult to imagine the Philippines not being a target for military outposts if war breaks out. Now the builders of those outposts can be invited in by the Philippines (if it times its play right), or put here by invasion. Whoever controls the Philippines controls the Western Pacific. It is hard to imagine the Philippines becoming a neutral state like Switzerland, allowed to perk merrily along as the battle cruisers, submarines, and aircraft carriers rage through the seas around her, shooting at each other.
Neutrality does not seem to be President Duterte’s aim, though. He is not a neutral kind of guy. He runs things himself. He both likes China for the investment and trade opportunities, but is wary of Chinese military power and tendency to dominate. That need to dominate crimps Duterte’s own authoritarian style. And China, really, is not a necessary partner. He can get arms from Russia and investments from Japan and Korea. He has military protection from the US, if he wants to keep it.
President Duterte seems to be playing the role of the flirt, or butterfly, a giant tease one day, turning away the next.
My experience is that this makes people very angry. Jealousy and suspicion replace trust and candor.
It will be an either-or-decision if a shooting war breaks out between China and the US. If she acts soon enough, the Philippines can go with history and the stronger military and side with the US, or she can go with proximity and amoral culture and side with China. If the Philippines is not stoutly defended when war actually breaks out, China will likely just take the Philippines. There is no decision left.
Me, I’m biased, I like my democratic freedoms and good old Christian-based morals. If it were up to me, I’d be helping the US build big bases across the nation. The sooner, the better, because I don’t like the Chinese generals breathing heavily upon my neck, which looks a lot like Scarborough Shoal. I’d make the Philippines into a huge American military outpost, and within that, I would perk merrily along building an economy and better life for my citizens.
I’d look for investments from Japan and Korea to build railways and other infrastructure, and I would view China as a huge threat.
But one thing is for sure, and the odds makers will get it right every time. I am not President Duterte.
I have no idea what he’s thinking.
I don’t even know if he is actually working for the well-being of the Philippines, where “the Philippines” means ordinary, work-a-day citizens. As long as his propaganda ministers play people for fools, I for sure hold no confidence that he is an earnest leader.