A warship moves during a live-ammunition military drill held by the South China Sea Fleet of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in the South China Sea July 26, 2010. Photo: Xinhua
South China Sea Conflict
The Philippines has signaled during a recent bilateral defense dialogue that it would expand the US military presence on its soil. US navy ships will reportedly be deployed in the Philippines, and more joint military exercises will be considered. China must respond to this move. Besides expressions of concern and disagreement, detailed countermeasures are necessary.
Given the recent active maneuvers of the US military in China's neighboring area, the lack of a response from China would be inappropriate, though it is also impossible to react strongly toward every move by the US. It is thus necessary to single out a few cases and apply due punishment.
The Philippines is a suitable target to impose such a punishment. A reasonable yet powerful enough sanction can be considered. It should show China's neighboring area that balancing China by siding with the US is not a good choice.
The Philippines and Vietnam are the two main countries creating waves in the South China Sea. Yet Vietnam needs China's political support as an alliance between Vietnam and the US has a difficult line to cross. However, the Philippines can easily surrender itself as a pawn in the US' geopolitical game against China. But the Philippines has its own bitter memory of the US. At least for now, Filipinos remain aware of the history of US colonization. Meanwhile, China's economy presents a huge attraction.
Well-measured sanctions against the Philippines will make it ponder the choice of losing a friend such as China and being a vain partner with the US.
To this end, China may consider cooling down its business ties with the Philippines. One step forward in military collaboration with the US means a step backward in economic cooperation with China. In the long run, China may also use its economic leverage to cut economic activities between ASEAN countries and the Philippines.
The US will likely increase aid to the Philippines to make up for its losses. This will further burden the US financially. During this tug of war, as long as China keeps its economic growth momentum, it will have an advantage.
While isolating the Philippines economically, China should keep a reserved military stance in South China Sea affairs, convincing neighboring countries of its peaceful intentions and defusing fears of China's rise.
Not being an empire, China won't be easily irritated or flex its military muscle at will. However, it has its principles. It will not accept a small country in the region creating military tensions by playing a balancing strategy. A price should be paid for violating this principle. The Philippines will not be an exception.