Just my opinion
By Raïssa Robles
I eagerly awaited what US President Barack Obama would say about the Philippine dispute with China over the Spratlys.
I was glad to hear ABS-CBN reporter RG Cruz ask Obama the question:
“Will the US defend the Philippines in case the territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea or the South China Sea become an armed conflict?”
Obama’s answer danced around the question. He said, in part:
“We do not have claims in this area territorially. We are an Asia Pacific nation and our prominent interest is peaceful resolution of conflict…And we don’t even take specific positions on the disputes between nations.”
The sentence – “And we don’t even take specific positions on the disputes between nations” – mystified me.
Because just last week, Obama categorically took a specific position in the case of Senkaku or Diaoyu island, claimed by both Japan and China. You can watch Obama’s reply mentioning Senkaku during his press conference in Tokyo below:
Some netizens have said that now is not the time to push the US on this issue.
If not now, when?
So, will this give China a hint which territory to grab first?
[Note: The photo of US President Barack Obama giving a toast during the state dinner in Malacañang Palace is a pooled photo taken by Francis Malasig of the European Presssphoto Agency (EPA) just hours ago.]
Key features of new PH-US pact – “Maritime security and maritime domain awareness”
POTUS is intensively briefed on vital talking points because his words are so closely dissected. For the Manila visit, the planned answer to, “will you defend the Philippines in case…” would be #1 on the list.
His answer indicated that the entire mutual defense commitment to us is not as firm as the commitment to Japan.
There are several reasons for this:
1. Japan is the higher-priority ally.
Japan is by far bigger economically, a major trading partner, cross-investor, and maintains intensive political ties. They are in bed together.
2. Japan has a serious military capability.
Japan can contribute meaningfully to its own defense, OR, as a future adversary, Japan can tilt the balance against the US. The US had to unequivocally commit to Japan, else risk Japan going its own way, possibly shifting to China in future.
3. Japan is perceived to have a stronger case over the Senkakus.
The Senkakus are full-fledged, mountainous islands that have been under active administration for decades. The Spratleys are low-lying reefs and islets.
4. Militarily, the Senkakus matter more.
They are part of the island chain from Japan to Taiwan that contains China’s East Sea Fleet. Inside the chain is the shallow Yellow Sea. Spratley oil has no military value to the US.
5. Credibility issues.
Japan is perceived to be politically more stable so more expected to honor treaties. Cory being defeated by Congress over the US bases still smarts in the institutional memory.
6. The US had to choose, and signal its choice.
Its downsized military cannot fight two regional wars at the same time anymore. A choice had to be made. And by signaling its priorities to China (and Japan), the US hopes to avoid direct military confrontation, as does the Chinese leadership so long as China is doing well competing economically.
7. Politics: many Americans can’t stomach casualties in yet another Southeast Asian country
Vietnam was enough.
Another fact to consider Is that the US has expanded military arrangements with Singapore (credible military and political system) and Australia (ditto). They are expanding their presence in Darwin, northern Australia, to something similar to Okinawa but, unlike Okinawa, well out of range of the type of missiles that China has pointed at Taiwan. The new security perimeter is Singapore/Australia/Guam/Japan/Korea. We are now, with Taiwan, merely inside that perimeter.