REBALANCING POWER IN ASIA

Ric PatricioAfter the recent two-day visit of US President Barack Obama, the Filipinos remain divided on issues surrounding the Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation.  The 10-year accord subject to renewal by both parties allows American forces’ temporary access to pre-qualified military camps and the prepositioning  of ships and fighter jets against external threats in Philippines.

In spite of noisy protests from anti-US militants, however, the majority of Filipinos welcome the renewed presence of the American Forces since their withdrawal from Clark and  Subic Military Bases in 1991.

In the absence US military forces in Southeast Asia, China was emboldened to flex its muscles against Philippines to gain control of the oil- and gas-rich West Philippine Sea.  Should there be ugly confrontations, the 120,000-strong Philippine military personnel is no match against China’s 2,620,000 ground, naval, and air forces unless the military might of the United States comes to our aid.

Although the US active military strength of 1,369,532 people is only second to that of the  People’s Liberation Army, its superior military technology plus the combined support from the allied forces are enough deterrents to mellow the aggressiveness of China.

President Obama was initially careful in his arrival statements concerning the territorial disputes of Philippines with China.  Later, however, he addressed the US and Filipino troops at Fort Bonifacio and emphasized that “Our commitment to defend the Philippines is ironclad and the United States will keep that commitment, because allies never stand alone.”

In fairness to the Chinese people, they are generally peace loving.  Those, for example, who have never been to mainland China have the perception that the majority of Chinese are communists.  Think again.  With a population of nearly 1.4 billion, no best system of governance in the world can rule the Chinese with built-in money making DNA in their genes.  So the situation is, they have a government that pretends to rule and the people pretending to be ruled.

The recent data from the World Bank show that China’s GDP of $13.5 trillion is quickly catching up to the US’s $15.5 trillion.  This is somehow indicative that its state-capitalist economic model is superior to the democratic, free-enterprise system of the United States.  But looking at other developments – over investments, wasteful real estate projects, polluted farm lands, excessive debts – all these will likely lead into an economic meltdown in China soon.  Its last untapped wealth frontiers is the West Philippine Sea, and its survival instinct compels the Chinese government to keep and protect it for future gains.

If China appears to be a bully to its Asian neighbors, blame the government rather than its people.  But in order not to antagonize China which remains a strong trading partner not only of the United States but Philippines as well, President Obama underscored that  “Our goal is not to counter China. Our goal is not to contain China. Our goal is to make sure international rules and norms are respected and that includes in the area of international disputes”.

The local hardliners against the United States are way behind the times.  While they rant and rave about the negatives of the US presence in the country and attribute their stance to being nationalistic, they forgot that globalization has already deeply entrenched itself well inside the country a long, long time ago.  We tend to be more citizens of the world rather than just Filipinos.

Pray, tell me, how many among us do not have relatives or friends now living or working in the United States, Canada, Australia, Europe, Middle East, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan,  South America, etc.? Next year when the AEC 2015 shall have materialized, we transition into becoming Southeast Asians with one vision, one identity, one community of 600 million people.

That, along with the newly forged defense treaty with the United a states, will surely rebalance the power in Asia with favorable outcomes not only for Filipinos but for all Southeast Asians and the rest of the world.