Heads of state give each other the traditional "ASEAN
handshake" during the ASEAN Summit opening ceremony held in Manila, on
November 13, 2017. Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP
hope that the recently concluded Asean Summit in Manila and President
Rodrigo Duterte's meetings with world leaders has opened his eyes to the
pivotal role the Philippines must play in the region and the world.
Philippine archipelago's strategic location at the Western Pacific's
gateway to Southeast Asia has grown significantly in importance just as
the region itself has become a global powerhouse. Today, the
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economies ringing the Pacific
account for half of all global trade.
beyond economics, the Philippines lies in a militarily strategic
location as well. With the South China Sea to its west, and the Pacific
Ocean to its east. The Philippines rests just east of what the Chinese
refer to as the "first Island chain." A region from northern Japan down
to the Malay Peninsula which the People's Liberation Army-Navy intends
to secure in order to deny the United States Navy as well as other naval
forces access to the seas close to the Chinese mainland.
China's two island "chains" form China's maritime defense
perimeters. Graphic: GlobalSecurity.org
the Philippines housed American military assets within its territory, it
be more difficult for China's PLA-Navy to secure the first island chain.
The Chinese were fully aware of this when they grabbed Panganiban Reef
(Mischief Reef) and Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) from the
Philippines. The latter, just 150 miles west of Luzon island and well
within the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Chinese missiles
launched from Panatag Shoal could rain down on Manila, the Philippine
capitol within minutes.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is also well aware the Philippines'
strategic location in the region and has thus met several times with
Duterte to strengthen ties between both countries. In addition to
donating both aircraft and seacraft to the Philippines, Abe reiterated
Japan's commitment to also provide the country with P450 million worth
of coastal surveillance radar equipment.
American President Donald Trump likewise noted during the APEC Summit in
Manila that the Philippines is the “most prime piece of real estate” in
the region from a military perspective. While on Airforce One, he told
the press that “It (the Philippines) is a strategic location – the most
strategic location. And, if you look at it, it’s called the most prime
piece of real estate from a military standpoint.”
we noted in a previous editorial, Filipinos should not relegate
themselves to the sidelines of this unfolding saga. We are a major
player and we all should start seeing ourselves as such. China wants the
Philippines on its side because of its strategic location. And it also
gives China's preposterous South China Sea claims some semblance of
legitimacy. The U.S. and its allies (Japan, Australia, and India) on the
other hand need the Philippines on their side in order to deny China
uncontested control of waters within the first island chain. Other
countries want the Philippines to assert its claim to the reefs, shoals,
and mineral resources it owns, based on the Permanent Court of
Arbitration's unanimous July 2016 ruling. At the dawn of the 21st
Century, global consensus requires that all nations abide by
international rules and conventions and not use force or intimidation to
get their way.
President Duterte, flanked
by U.S. President Donald Trump to his right, and Australian Prime
Minister Malcolm Turnbull to his left give each other the "Asean
big question is: is Duterte up to the challenge? At the very least, he
can be more assertive and extract greater concessions from the Chinese,
the Japanese, and the Americans, who all want the Philippines on their
side? Or will he choose to kowtow to Beijing and wait patiently for
scraps to be thrown his way? It seems we'll all just
have to wait and see. Published 11/18/2017