Philippines: China And The Thousand Cuts

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May 21, 2012: The government is trying to repair relations with China. There has been no Filipino ambassador to China for over a year. A new one is being selected, but in the meantime the president has appointed two businessmen to begin diplomatic and economic negotiations with the Chinese. The Philippines is trying to get China to lift its four month ban on Filipino bananas. China is a major buyer for Filipino goods and could cancel other deals at will. Already, about 2,000 Chinese tourists have cancelled trips to the Philippines. That means millions of dollars of lost sales for Filipino firms. Last year about a quarter million Chinese visited, and Chinese currently comprise about eight percent of tourists.

China and the Philippines have both imposed fishing bans in the same waters around Scarborough Shoal. There have also been nationalistic demonstrations over the issue in both countries. The situation is getting out of hand and, without some strong public pledges of support from the United States, the Philippines will have to back down. Currently, Filipinos continue to report being harassed, but not chased away, by uniformed and armed members of the China Marine Surveillance service who always seem to have a patrol boat or ship at Scarborough Shoal.  The shoal is only 250 kilometers from the Philippines and 1,200 kilometers from China. But China claims ownership of Scarborough Shoal but has not yet used force to assert that claim.

While the United States has not been eager to aid the Philippines in its territorial dispute with China, Japan has. Other nations bordering the South China Sea also have territorial disputes with China and want more support from America. China's neighbors see themselves being subjected to the "death of a thousand cuts." The Chinese do not want a military confrontation with America. That's bad for business and a booming economy is the main thing that keeps the communist dictatorship in power in China. But by constantly applying a little pressure on its enemies in the South China Sea dispute, China weakens the opposition. China uses military and economic power to get what it wants here. Thus Japan offers the Philippines military assistance (new patrol boats) and whatever else it can provide to maintain Filipino resistance to Chinese demands.

MILF and the government agree that they can probably work out a compromise agreement but that will take time. In other words, there will be no MILF peace agreement this year. Part of the reason for this is growing political instability within MILF. That had to be dealt with before a final peace deal with the government can be agreed on.

May 18, 2012: In the north (Albay province) NPA gunmen attacked a construction site and, despite an army detachment on guard, destroyed over $2 million worth of construction equipment. The NPA were punishing the construction company for not paying "revolutionary taxes" (extortion) to the NPA. This is how NPA finances itself and as a result of this attack the army high command ordered reforms in army intelligence to get more timely warning of such attacks, so the NPA retaliation efforts can be thwarted.

President Aquino called up the leader of a proposed naval protest against China and convinced him to not do it. The protest leader, a former Filipino marine, was taking two fishing boats and 20 people (including a TV crew) out to Scarborough Shoal to protest "Chinese bullying."

May 16, 2012: The Philippines largest and most modern warship, a 3,000 ton, 46 year old former American coast guard cutter is sidelined temporarily for maintenance (to fix some problems with the 76mm gun).

May 13, 2012: An American nuclear attack submarine (SSN) arrived in Subic Bay for resupply, some maintenance, and shore leave for the crew. The U.S. had requested permission for the visit on April 3rd, before the current confrontation over Scarborough Shoal began on April 8th.

 

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