Must read: “Make Philippines pay for its balancing act”
– Global Times, January 29, 2012
While Filipinos have remained riveted to the ongoing impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, interesting events are unfolding in the aspect of Philippine foreign affairs. Two weeks ago, four United States senators visited the Philippines “to discuss key issues in US-Philippine relations.”
The delegation was led by Arizona Senator John McCain – the Republican rival of current President Barack Obama in the 2008 elections. He was joined by Joseph Lieberman (Connecticut), Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire), and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.
Lieberman, now an independent, was Al Gore’s running mate in his failed 2000 presidential bid. He is retiring once his term ends on January 2013. Ayotte, meanwhile, has been mentioned by 2012 Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney as a potential pick for vice president. Whitehouse, a Democrat, is seeking reelection this November.
Sources within the Department of Foreign Affairs told The Manila Times that discussions centered on terror threats, human trafficking, peace talks, and China’s rising role in the region and the world. Details about the agreement on the Philippines’ bid to acquire a squadron of F-16 fighter jets were also tackled. The group met with DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario and President Benigno Aquino III. Aside from the Philippines, the four senators also visited Thailand, Vietnam, and more importantly, Myanmar.
In a Twitter post made after wrapping up the Philippine leg of their four-country tour, Lieberman called their visit “a dawn of a new era” in the 60-year mutual defense treaty between the Philippines and US. He called on his home government to continue supporting the Philippine military “especially in maritime domain awareness and territorial defense.”
Speaking to Voice of America’s Simone Orendain, Lieberman reiterated that the tensions over the Spratlys Islands will be reconciled if America maintains and expands its presence in the West Philippine Sea. He noted the recent Philippine acquisition of American-made military ships as a sign of continues cooperation between the two parties.
For his part, McCain said the United States should “emphasize that (it) will do whatever (it) needs to do in order to protect the principle of freedom of navigation, particularly in the West Philippine Sea.” McCain’s non-usage of South China Sea is noticeable.
Ayotte, in an interview with Foreign Policy magazine’s Josh Rogin, said that leaders in Southeast Asia regard the United States as a counterbalance to China. Last week, American and Filipino officials agreed to have more joint military exercises as well as a greater presence of American troops of the country – short of reestablishing the US bases.
These developments have not gone unnoticed by the Chinese media. Global Times, a Beijing-based daily whose parent company is owned by the Communist Party of China, published last January 29 calls on the Chinese government to implement sanctions against the Philippines. This is to underscore their point that “siding with the US is not a good choice.”
The editorial expounded: “Well-measured sanctions against the Philippines will make it ponder the choice of losing a friend such as China and being a vain partner with the US.” One way China can do this, the paper pointed out, is by “cooling its business ties with the Philippines.”
It argued that the East Asian country can also use its economic leverage against other member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. And as a parting shot to the Philippine government, the editorial wrote: “(China) will not accept a small country in the region creating military tensions by playing a balancing strategy. A price should be paid for violating this principle.”
US TV network ABC News has published an Associated Press report on this on its website, but the Philippine media, undoubtedly very much preoccupied with their coverage of the Corona impeachment trial, has remained largely oblivious to this developing story despite its implications. The challenge now for the Aquino administration is this: how it can effectively assert its territorial sovereignty over the disputed islands without constantly begging for Uncle Sam’s help (which is tantamount to further infuriating China).