Keep China in check

Buencamino is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms (www.aer.ph).

“The Chinese are too strong, too assertive. That is why a Pax Sinica is very threatening to us,” said an analyst from Vietnam’s Diplomatic Academy to a reporter from the Atlantic magazine. Vietnam has cause for concern, China invaded it 17 times.

Vietnam is not resting on China’s assurances that it is only interested in business and harbors no imperial ambitions.  Vietnam recently spent $200M to rehabilitate Cam Ranh Bay, probably the largest and most important US naval base during the Vietnam War, to make it available for use by foreign navies.

In Vietnamese “making Cam Ranh Bay available for foreign navies” means laying out the welcome mat for the US.  In Chinese “laying out the welcome mat for the US” means containment, a bad word to the communist tyrants in Beijing. The phrase also means containment in Vietnamese and English but it’s a good word as far as they and the rest of the civilized world are concerned.

Everybody wants to keep China in check. (No pun intended) Nobody wants Pax Sinica or Chinese hegemony. Everybody welcomes increased “US meddling in Asia-Pacific affairs”, to use Beijing’s characterization of US presence, because no civilized country wants an utterly corrupt totalitarian regime exercising exclusive control over the South China Sea. Everybody wants someone who can guarantee that Beijing will not make unilateral moves that violate “the rules-based order that has served the region for six decades.” Everybody understands that a countervailing power to Beijing is necessary and the US is it. It’s the only country that can keep Beijing from running wild.

Why point out the obvious? Because there are those in this country who still persist in promoting juvenile nationalism, blind anti-Americanism fueled by outdated Cold War propaganda. Well, times have changed my dear Jomanians and we have to adjust to new realities: a former oppressor is now our bodyguard against a future oppressor, yesterday’s imperialist is now our only protection against tomorrow’s imperialist.

The best national security decision made so far is to allow the US access to Subic and Clark.  We are not selling out, we are simply doing what is best for us, at this time and under the circumstances. If Vietnam can open Cam Ranh Bay to a former enemy why can’t Subic and Clark be made available to an old friend and ally? Besides, there is a commonality of national interest between the US and the nations around the South China Sea: the US wants freedom of navigation, we want freedom from Beijing’s incursions into our seas.

Will the occasional US visits turn into permanent US bases? Maybe they could but it definitely won’t happen anytime soon. The US cannot afford permanent overseas bases right now, “places not bases” is the new Pentagon mantra. Besides, experience has shown that bases agreements are messy and expensive while visiting or status of forces agreements are neater and cheaper, both for the US and the host country, so why go back to it?

The Jomanians’ fear that US bases will return and become US territory once again is not grounded on reality, it comes from robotic thinking. We have to celebrate a new era in Philippine-US relations instead of mindlessly chanting slogans that give Beijing an erection.

Another thing to keep in mind is the new US Pacific strategy does not stand on access to Subic and Clark. The US can port its ships and land its planes in India, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, and soon in places like Cam Ranh Bay. We need US presence to fend off China more than the US needs Philippine hospitality to keep the sea lanes open to navigation. We have to live with that reality until we become strong enough to stand up to China or any other ambitious neighbor.

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