By Artchil B. Fernandez
China, the country’s behemoth neighbor bully has upped its aggression in the West Philippine Sea with a twin thrust lately. The Chinese move is likely prompted by BBM’s recalibration of Philippine foreign policy which departed from his predecessor.
To recall, Du30 seriously ruptured the country’s foreign policy with his pivot to China. Claiming that the Philippines cannot fight China, Du30 meekly acquiesced to the Chinese position and parroted them in relation to the territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea. Taking advantage of Du30’s servility, China built artificial islands in the disputed area. Du30 merely looked the other way as China expanded and militarily equipped the artificial islands.
Du30 also attempted to wean away the country from the US and move it closer to China. On several occasions Du30 not only criticized the US but even threatened to cut-off military ties with the Americans. He even went as far as serve a notice of termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) but due to military pressure failed to abrogate it. Du30 shortly before leaving office eventually restored the VFA.
It was assumed Du30’s China turn would continue if not accelerate with the election of Bongbong Marcos (BBM) as a continuity president. But to the surprise of everyone, BBM not only put a break to Du30’s Chinese slide but pivoted back to the US.
BBM repaired the damaged US-Philippine relation and moved the country back to the arms of the US. After two visits to the US, BBM strengthened US-Philippine alliance by allowing the Americans to the build five additional military facilities in the country under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). BBM also permitted the largest ever joint military exercise between the two countries.
China is not happy with the repaired US-Philippine relations under BBM. With its influence on Philippine government waning, China expressed its displeasure with the improving security relations between the US and the Philippines. It warned the country that granting the US more access to military facilities “seriously harm Philippine national interests and endanger regional peace and stability.”
“Whereas the U.S. claims that such cooperation is intended to help the disaster relief efforts of the Philippines and some Americans even tout the EDCA sites as driver of local economy, it is plain and simple that those moves are part of the U.S. efforts to encirle [sic] and contain China through its military alliance with this country,” an irked China said in a statement.
Lately China backed its annoyance with the Philippines through a twin moves that send strong message to the current administration.
The first is the surprise visit of Du30 to China two weeks ago. It was unknown who invited Du30 to China and in what capacity he is representing the Philippines. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) was not informed of the visit and in the dark of its purpose. BBM and his administration were caught off-guard by Du30’s unexpected journey to Beijing.
Chinese President Xi Jinping personally welcomed Du30 at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse. The visit was given prominence in China’s state media. Why did China give so much importance to former president? It is obvious by inviting Du30 and giving weight to the visit, China is telegraphing a message to BBM perhaps even a warning.
The Dutertes are important partners in the “Cartel of Dynasties” now ruling the country. Through the Dutertes, China can rock the alliance and destabilize it. The Dutertes can make life hard and difficult for BBM.
BBM’s abandonment of Du30’s pivot to China and mend relations with the US strained the relations between him and Du30. Du30 publicly expressed his disapproval of BBM’s move towards the US. China’s use of Du30 to counter BBM only proves he is really their Manchurian candidate. In fact, Du30 lately is acting as Chinese envoy to the Philippines, representing and advancing Chinese interest.
China backed its diplomatic move through Du30 with brute force. This week, Chinese Coast Guard bombarded with water cannon Philippine supply ships on their way to Ayungin Shoal. The Philippines stranded BRP Sierra Madre to guard that part of Philippine territory. This is the third time Chinese Coast Guard attacked the supply ships.
To justify its provocative action, China manufactured a lie that the Philippines agreed to remove the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal. No such agreement exists. Ayungin Shoal is part of Philippine territory.
Recent twin thrusts of China are alarming and serious cause of concern. China is destabilizing the country without and within. Du30 is a Chinese gun pointed at BBM’s head. The message is simple: “we can undermine and subvert your administration and the cartel of dynasties.”
The attacks on Philippine supply ships are harassments designed to force the country out of Ayungin Shoal. China plans to steal more Philippine territory. Once the Philippines leave Ayungin Shoal, China will occupy the area and will build an artificial island there. Resisting Chinese pressure and aggression is a huge challenge to BBM.
BBM’s unraveling of Du30’s Chinese pivot has jolted China. This has ramifications on local politics. It is not far-fetch that China will intervene in Philippine local politics through its mercenaries, proxies and surrogates. Domestic politics will be another battle ground between the US and China. Both imperial powers will back candidates beholden to them. The “Cartel of Dynasties” could unravel and fragment as superpowers tempt its members and use them to advance their interests.