Author Topic: From balancing to appeasing China: The tales of two presidents  (Read 2398 times)


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From balancing to appeasing China: The tales of two presidents
Thinking Beyond Politics
Renato Cruz De Castro

Posted on March 29, 2017

Prior to leaving for his visit to Myanmar on March 19, President Duterte entertained questions from journalists, who asked about China’s reported plan to build an environmental monitoring station on Scarborough Shoal. President Duterte emphatically admitted he could not stop the plans, saying “We cannot stop China from doing (these) things.” Instead, he turned the table on the journalists by asking, “What do you want me to do? Declare war against China? I can’t. We will lose all our military and policemen tomorrow and we (will be) destroyed as a nation.”

President Duterte offered a possible solution to the crisis: “Just keep (the waters) open and do not interfere with our (Philippine) coast guard.” He also dismissed concerns about China’s activities near Benham Rise, despite Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s warnings of Chinese survey ships loitering in the location for month-long periods.

The President appears determined to appease China as it expands its control of the South China Sea. A policy of appeasement involves efforts by a leader of a smaller state to conciliate or “buy off” an expansionist power by making unilateral diplomatic and strategic concessions.

Former President Aquino took a different approach, actively challenging China’s expansion despite its overwhelmingly economic and strategic capabilities. He did this by building up the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) territorial defense capabilities. Why the change in behavior? A significant factor behind the Aquino administration’s efforts, despite the country’s military inadequacies, was the country’s alliance with the United States.

The Aquino administration was aware that no amount of financial resources would enable the Philippines to face an assertive China in the South China Sea. The buildup of the AFP’s territorial defense capabilities was designed for limited deterrence and asymmetric combat, but not for naval warfare. Thus, the military buildup merely complemented the deterrence provided by US forward deployment and bilateral alliances in East Asia. The Aquino administration’s policy of challenging China’s expansion was predicated upon the US’ asserting its position as the dominant naval power in the Pacific area.

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