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What is Uncle Sam’s Asia-Pacific strategy?

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In an unexpected – but notsurprising -- turn of events in the Scarborough Shoal territorial disputebetween the Philippines and China, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at apress conference last April 30 in Washington DC announced that the UnitedStates is maintaining a “neutral stand” in their dispute.  However, in an attempt to downplay theeffect of the Obama administration’s hands-off policy, Clinton said: “While we do not take sides in the competingsovereignty claims to land features in the South China Sea, as a Pacific powerwe have a national interest in freedom of navigation, the maintenance of peaceand stability, respect for international law, and the unimpeded, lawfulcommerce across our sea lanes.”  

For the first time, UncleSam made it crystal clear that the “little brown brother” is on his own in the territorialdispute with China over a shoal in the middle of the West Philippine Sea (SouthChina Sea).  It seems that UncleSam doesn’t see any strategic or economic value in a group of islets and rocksthat is submerged in high tide.

However, to allay thePhilippines’ fear of Chinese encroachment, Clinton said, “The US supports a collaborative diplomatic process by all thoseinvolved for resolving the various disputes that they encounter. We oppose thethreat or use of force by any party to advance its claims. And we will remainin close contact with our ally, the Philippines.”   

*Mutual defense treaty

In my article, “Scarborough Incident” (April 26, 2012), I wrote: “Inmy opinion, the only time that the U.S. would intervene is when her nationalinterests are threatened.  And for as long as China doesn’t block theshipping lanes in the South China Sea or prevent any country from exploring foroil or natural gas in the South China Sea, the U.S. would not intervene in anyterritorial dispute between China and the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal orthe Spratlys.  Who cares who owns these little islands as long as thewaters around them are open to exploration… or exploitation?” 

Well, what else couldClinton say knowing full well that in the event of an armed conflict betweenthe Philippines and China, the U.S. would not be able to send the Marines and deploythem on Philippine territory because the Philippine Constitution prohibits thestationing of foreign military forces on its territory.  But what would the self-proclaimed “nationalists”do if U.S. military forces arrived?
In this situation the “nationalists”might just swallow their “national pride” lest China would claim our countryfor the second time in history.  Itmust be remembered that in early 1400s, China established a colonial governmentin Lingayen in the province of Pangasinan and proclaimed the entire island ofLuzon as her territory.  However,during that short time China ruled Luzon, she didn’t have any control beyond Pangasinan. 

*Chinese intrusion

In my article, “Whatif China attacked the Spratlys?”  (July 13, 2011), I wrote: “By just looking at the two countries’ militaryforces, there is no way the Philippines could survive a Chinese attack. The Philippine Navy has one World War II-vintage frigate and an Air Force thatconsists mainly of helicopters and no jet fighters.  In a matter of daysthe entire Spratly archipelago could be in the possession of China — withoutfiring a single shot!

“The only thing that isdeterring China – momentarily — from attacking the Spratlys is theUS-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty, on the presumption that the US would cometo the aid of the Philippines if the latter invoked the Mutual DefenseTreaty. But that is a big ‘IF’ because President Barack Obama would havedifficulty in convincing Congress and the American people to go to war in theSouth China Sea while the US is still embroiled in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan,and Libya… unless her national interests and security are threatened.” 

With the war in Iraq and therevolution in Libya over, Obama has set the timetable for the withdrawal of Americancombat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.  However, he signed an agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzaito maintain American military presence in Afghanistan for 10 more years afterthe combat troops have gone home.  Interestingly,his announcement followed Clinton’s pronouncement of U.S. “neutrality” in theScarborough Shoal dispute.  Was ita coincidence or part of a grand plan?

With the recent agreementbetween the U.S. and Japan to relocate 9,000 U.S. Marines stationed in Okinawato other bases in Western Pacific, does it seem that the U.S. is downsizing itsmilitary presence in Asia-Pacific? I don’t think so.  On thecontrary, the Obama administration is establishing alliances with other nationsin South Asia and South East Asia to contain a rising China, which has becomemore assertive – and aggressive – in trying to control the oil-rich South ChinaSea.  In 2010, China claimed theentire South China Sea as one of her “core national interests” just like Tibetand Taiwan. 

*New American geostrategy

In November 2011, U.S. andAustralia announced the expansion of American military presence in Australiawith the initial deployment of 2,500 combat-ready marines in Darwin, Australia,which is strategically located in the Timor Sea.  The U.S. will also station warplanes in airbases in NorthernTerritory and warships including submarines at the HMAS Stirling naval base inWestern Australia.

In addition, U.S. wouldeventually station military aircraft including Global Hawk spy drones in the CocossIslands in the Indian Ocean, which is a territory of Australia.  These unmanned high-altitude “Spy inthe Sky” drones could cover the troublesome South China Sea where six countries(China, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines) are claimingthe oil-rich Spratly archipelago.

The Cocoss Islands wouldprovide a closer presence to the South China Sea than the British-owned DiegoGarcia Island, which is 1,478 nautical miles farther west in the IndianOcean.  The lease of the U.S. base atDiego Garcia is due to expire in 2016. The U.S. would then close the base and move the operations to CocosIslands, which is 1,992 nautical miles west of Darwin. 

The strategic location ofthe Cocos Islands – also known as Keeling Islands -- is crucial because of itsproximity to three shipping lanes: Strait of Hormuz, Strait of Malacca, and theTimor Sea.  With the ability of theU.S. to control these choke points, Chinese ships could be blocked fromtransporting oil from the Middle East where more than 50% of her foreign oil comesfrom. 

With China’s dependence onforeign oil, her strategic oil reserves will be depleted in less than 30 daysif war with the U.S. breaks out.  
*It’s all about oil

It is interesting to notethat in the past several years, state-owned Chinese oil companies have beenbuying stocks from oil fields in Australia.  It seems that China is looking at Australia as a majorsource for oil.  If China startsgetting Australian oil, her dependence on Middle East oil will decrease.  Makes one wonder if the expansion ofU.S. military presence in Australia might have any bearing on China’s infusionof investment capital into Australia’s oil industry? 

Today’s geopolitics is likea game of chess.  A chess grand masterdoesn’t win by chance or luck; he wins by planning his moves in advance andexecuting them cunningly.  Could itbe that Uncle Sam is going to sacrifice Scarborough Shoal in his opening gambitto checkmate China? 

By Perry Diaz




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