Author Topic: A sustainable, whole-nation, “Kobayashi Maru” solution to China’s aggression  (Read 105055 times)

dr demented

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United States

The US was in no shape to mount a conventional war. The two wars-without-end in Iraq and Afghanistan had left the US electorate with little appetite for yet another armed conflict. While the Global War on Terror continues even today, and has even expanded to Africa, these focus on counter-insurgency campaigns -- mounted by special operations forces -- designed to bolster the effectiveness of the armed forces of partner countries. These were not high-profile operations on the scale of either Gulf Wars I or II. In contrast, any direct conflict with China would be.

Domestic challenges associated with sequestration and the 2008 financial crisis arguably gave additional reason to pause and reconsider the wisdom of committing resources for war. Manifestations of the effect of these constraints on US military spending range from the USAF crisis with its fighter readiness, to the cancellation or reduction of big-ticket acquisitions.

Arguably both resulted in an anemic “Pivot to Asia” that left China emboldened.

The timidity of the US -- and NATO -- response to Russian annexation of the Crimea in 2014, as well as successful nullification of the UN Security Council in the matter of the Syrian Civil War in 2012 -- by way of a joint Russia-China veto, proved to Beijing that it would be able to challenge international order with little consequence to itself.

While the Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the United States remains relevant, proper acknowledgement of the fact that the MDT does not give the Philippines license to do whatever it wants -- and then expect the US defend it blindly -- is essential to any rational geopolitical calculation.

Any discussion of the role of the United States in all of this is by its very nature going to be an exceedingly complex discussion.  It is interwoven with issues not just germane to the current existing relationship between the Philippines and the United States, but also takes into account the historic relationship between the two countries, geopolitics, American domestic issues, and a bunch of other things.  The current state of the United States is also a major factor as the policies of its current administration have been arguably in flux.

Sir Adroth's statement that the American populace has no stomach for involving itself in another major war is largely accurate.  And at the very least this has been true for the last decade, and stem largely from the stalemate in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and the premature declaration of victory of the George W. Bush administration in both theaters even though combat troops remain on the ground to this very day.  That stalemate is believed to be one of the contributing factors to Barack Obama's election in 2009 when American voters made it clear that it wanted American involvement in foreign wars scaled back and more emphasis on repairing a weakened economy.

The Obama administration focused its policies more toward diplomacy and repairing damaged relationships with foreign partners.  When it needed to get involved militarily, it tried as much as possible to minimize the involvement of actual troops and personnel, and tended to focus more on drone strikes.  What few troops were needed were kept to a minimal level, such as the special forces raid into Pakistan to take out Osama bin Laden in 2011.

That more pacifist slant also reflected itself in the Asia pivot which took place to the latter half of Obama's term.  The Obama administration should be credited with recognizing that the rise of China represented a bigger threat, and the necessity of reallocating US forces to put a deterrent force in the region.  But that "rebalance" has been hampered by internal budget battles between the Obama administration and the Republican-controlled Congress which led to the "sequester" which compromised by denying budget funds across the board to all programs, hitting defense just as hard as any other program.  As a result, there weren't adequate defense assets (particularly naval assets) which could be rebalanced.  Naval assets slowly frittered away due to attrition.  Those remaining naval assets were stretched thin amongst several crisis areas (Syria, the Black Sea, the Middle East, etc.).  And what funds were available were being poured into high-value programs of dubious use (such as the LCS program).

But there is the other "elephant in the room" in Asia:  North Korea.

The United States, under the Obama administration, recognized North Korea as the biggest threat, given its nuclear ambitions, and concerns that it might be one of the few nations on the planet that might not hesitate to use such weapons.  Not to mention that its sizeable land army combine with its large artillery corps could quickly pour millions of troops over the DMZ to overrun South Korea, along with the 30,000 US troops stationed there.  Not to mention that a nuclear armed North Korea could cause South Korea and Japan to quickly follow suit and develop their own nuclear arsenals, thereby touching off a major regional arms race.

With diplomacy as the option of first resort, China has been seen as the key to getting North Korea to stand down.  China is North Korea's sole ally and biggest trading partner, and is believed to exercise influence over the Kim regime.

As such, a lot of the diplomatic maneuvering in the Korean crisis has consisted of the United States and other nations encouraging China to lean on North Korea.  This was true of the Obama administration, and the first year of the Trump administration with Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State.  However part of engaging China to help out with North Korea has involved not ruffling China's feathers to try to get its cooperation.

Forcing the issue in the South China Sea has been seen as one of those things that might ruffle Beijing's feathers.

And so the lack of aggressive US action in the South China Sea might be attributable to that issue taking a back seat to the more urgent issues involving North Korea.  At best, US action has been seen as piecemeal, mainly consisting of Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs), with supposed "red lines" drawn at Scarborough Shoal.  However, there was not direct attempt to stop the island reclamation projects at 7 Spratlys Islands reefs and shoals in clear violation of international law.  While there is no evidence to indicate that such was the case, the US-brokered agreement over the April 2011 Scarborough Shoal incident would be consistent with an attempt to defuse the situation and not ruffle Beijing's feathers.

With Mike Pompeo now in charge at the State Department, it's hard to say if the prior use China to lean on North Korea policy is still in place.  Trump and Kim Jong Il did meet in Singapore and claim to have brokered an agreement to curtail North Korea's nuclear program (without needing the Chinese as an intermediary).  However, recent intelligence reports have indicated that North Korea has been ramping up, rather than winding down, its nuclear program.

In any case, with the Department of Defense now under Jim Mattis, we have seen an increase in tempo of FONOPs, with increased military-like activity taking place with the 12 nautical mile zones claimed by Beijing.  They also publicly disinvited China from the recently concluded Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2018 exercises, citing Chinese activities in the South China Sea.  But only time will tell where things will go from here.

Add to this an air of unpredictability which comes with the man occupying the Oval Office, Donald J. Trump.  He has publicly criticized allied nations, to the point that many of them have questioned whether the United States would own up to its alliance and treaty obligations so long as Trump is president.  At the same time, Trump has cozied up to nations that have been traditional adversaries of the US, such as Russia.  And there are lingering suspicions that Russia may have had direct involvement in the election of Trump as president in 2016.  Likewise, there have also been reports that members of Trump's family have used their influence in government to facilitate business dealings in China and/or with the Chinese government.

Despite all this, Trump has proven a mixed bag when it comes to getting legislation in his program passed.  Despite his party having majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, little of his legislative agenda has been pushed through, apart from his tax reform program.  That program, which created billions of dollars in tax cuts directed at upper income individuals and corporations, is projected to add trillions to an already large national debt according to an independent US Congressional study.  And as such, it becomes questionable whether the funding would be there for important big ticket defense initiatives such as the expansion of the US Navy to 355 ships, Coast Guard modernization, and border security.   

Trump also seems to have a very different way of doing things.  Some believe that his approach is more bilateral in nature, preferring to deal one-on-one rather than work in coalitions as his predecessor did.  His thinking also tends to be more transactional, a reflection of his business background.

How this bodes for the's hard to say, given Trump's penchant for unpredictability and (from his Twitter posts) volatility.  He seems to get along well with President Duterte (much in the same way that he seems to get along with Kim Jong Il, Vladamir Putin, and Recep Erdogan), and have a common foe in terrorism.  But Trump's frequent clashes with close traditional allies have caused some to wonder whether the US could ever again be trusted to keep its word.

And then there's the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the United States, and all the historical complications that come with it.  But I leave that for the section on the MDT.

Addenda:  If there is a criticism to be leveled at the Obama administration, it is that it placed too much faith in the "rule-based approach" to the international order.  It idealistically believed that everyone followed the rules, and that diplomacy and subtle nudges with sanctions would get nations to come back into the fold.

Clearly that was not the case with Russia in the Crimea, nor was it the case with China and its artificial islands.  Those, and a few nations, reverted back to the "might makes right" way of doing business, which the "rules-based approach" proved inadequate to deal with.  Whether or not a "carrot-stick" approach would have worked, it's hard to say given the complexities of the situation, and how a situation in one part of the world gets interwoven with crises elsewhere.
« Last Edit: August 13, 2018, 08:00:12 AM by dr demented »

dr demented

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Japan remains the US’ strongest ally in the region, and remains the Philippines’ top lender. While it has consistently flexed its muscles in response to Chinese aggression in the Senkaku islands, its engagements in the South China Sea remain focused on beefing up regional coast guards.

But even on the matter of Coast Guard strength, China's shipbuilding spree has eclipsed the Japanese Coast Guard, both in terms of number and size of vessels. Therefore a favorable repeat of a Japanese salvage operation in waters that China claimed to be its own, in 2002, is no longer a certainty. By 2015, China had wrestled the title "largest coast guard cutter" from Japan, when it commissioned the 12,000-ton cutter designated CGC 2901.

With Japan, the big "elephant in the room" has always been its postwar Constitution which renounces war as an instrument of foreign policy.  While it allows for self-defense, it has been interpreted such that Japanese governments steer clear of anything such as foreign deployments and the production of war and defense materials above and beyond what is strictly needed for Japan's defense requirements.

In comes Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.  Conservative, a man who believes in Japan's power.  He has no qualms about controversial visits to the Yasukuni Shrine which house the remains of convicted Class A war criminals (thereby reopening old wounds in China and Japan).  He would like to throw off those pacifist constitutional provisions.  He knows that the dispute with China in the Senkakus is a powder keg ready to go off.  He knows that China is an emerging power with a fleet and air force that can take down Japan.  He also knows that exporting defense materials would be a big boost to the Japanese economy.

Except that Japanese public polling runs 2 to 1 in favor of remaining pacifist.

In 2016, Abe's party handily won the elections in the upper house of the Diet (Japan's parliament).  However, with polling running in favor of continued pacifism, Abe publicly admitted that he had to back away from scrapping pacifist constitutional provisions.  Politically, he had no choice.  Even though his party controlled both the Upper and Lower Houses, forcing such a measure would have meant either parliamentary defeat, or a revolt by his own party because his MPs constituents wouldn't have stood for such a change.

However, Japan still had a problem.  With China gaining tighter control over the South China Sea, in meant that the Chinese could place a vice-grip on Japan anytime it wanted.  Japan is highly dependent on Middle Eastern oil.  And that oil flow through the volatile sea lanes of the South China Sea.

If lethal aid, such as warships and warplanes was constitutionally unacceptable, then nonlethal aid, in the form of coast guard vessels was possible.  And so the Japanese have bent the rules by aiding not just the Philippines, but also Malaysia and Vietnam.  At the same time, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force has gone on goodwill trips and port calls in the Southeast Asia region, using the opportunity to help train up regional coast guards and navies.  If the JMSDF can't legally protect the sea lanes itself, then it could certainly help regional partners do so in cooperation with them.

Very quietly, both the Duterte administration, and under his predecessor President Aquino, the Philippines has engaged Japan in terms of building patrol capabilities, as well as infrastructure.

Japan has proven to be a willing partner.  However, that partnership comes with restraints.  And only time will tell if eventually those restrictions will be loosened.  A lot of that is dependent not on Japanese or Philippine policy makers, but rather on the temperament and values of the Japanese voting public.  It is merely for government officials in both countries to maximize the relationship to the extent that they can. 

dr demented

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ASEAN was not designed effectively engage China in a territorial dispute. First of all, it is not actually a military alliance the way NATO, or even the South East Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO), was. By definition, it is an economic and socio-economic alliance.


< Edited >


As set out in the ASEAN Declaration, the aims and purposes of ASEAN are:

To accelerate the economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region through joint endeavours in the spirit of equality and partnership in order to strengthen the foundation for a prosperous and peaceful community of Southeast Asian Nations;

To promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law in the relationship among countries of the region and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter;

To promote active collaboration and mutual assistance on matters of common interest in the economic, social, cultural, technical, scientific and administrative fields;

< Edited >

It actually lacks any explicit obligation to defend associate member states. If anything, it emphasizes non-interference in each other’s affairs.

Furthermore, it is an association that relies on consensus to accomplish anything.




1. As a basic principle, decision-making in ASEAN shall be based on consultation and consensus.

2. Where consensus cannot be achieved, the ASEAN Summit may decide how a specific decision can be made.

3. Nothing in paragraphs 1 and 2 of this Article shall affect the mode of decision-making as contained in the relevant ASEAN legal instruments.

4. In the case of a serious breach of the Charter or non-compliance, the matter shall be referred to the ASEAN Summit for decision.

This makes ASEAN relatively easy for China to neutralize and assure that it does not become a venue for diplomatic opposition to its ambitions. While much has been said about Duterte’s refusal to use ASEAN as a venue for protesting Chinese actions in the West Philippine Sea, ASEAN had already been defanged years earlier when Cambodia actively blocked any attempt association statements that would be unfavorable to China. First in 2012, then again in 2016. Adding further insult to injury, China openly thanked Cambodia for taking its side at ASEAN.

As pointed out, ASEAN is hardly a cohesive alliance or even a coalition.  It runs purely be consensus.  And so one has to be careful about how you interpret ASEAN pronouncements.  At times, it will put out a water-down statement that merely achieves a weak consensus statement without substance only for the sake of saying that they achieved consensus on "something".  When in reality it is nothing at all.

As Sir Adroth pointed out, ASEAN got neutered long before Duterte appeared on the scene, when Cambodia, who was the ASEAN chair in 2012, killed an ASEAN communique which loudly criticized China's island reclamation activities.  This despite the Philippines and Vietnam openly pushing and lobbying for a strong statement.  By 2016, with the Philippines now under Duterte looking to constructively engage with China, Vietnam was left isolated in trying to push for strong action against China.  Vietnam is reportedly less than please with the Philippines.  Whereas before 2016, Vietnam felt that it found a partner in the Philippines is cooperatively pushing to stop Chinese expansion, afterward, Vietnam had felt that the Philippines had thrown it under a bus.  Reportedly, Vietnam planned to quickly file its own case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration, using the July 2016 PCA ruling in the case of the Philippines vs. the People's Republic of China as the precedent.  The Philippines backing away from the ruling effectively pulled the rug out from under Vietnam.

Even without the Philippines leaning one way or the other, pro-China ASEAN members, such as Cambodia and Laos are more than enough to prevent any form of consensus in ASEAN over the South China Sea disputes for the foreseeable future.

The one thing to watch for in ASEAN at this point is development of a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea.  Recent reports indicate that an initial draft has been developed.  Some reports indicate that the draft is very favorable toward China and, despite the intention and purpose of the Code of Conduct, non-binding.  Stay tuned.

dr demented

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Evaluating the "3rd option": UNCLOS

The cold hard fact about the UNCLOS ruling is that it did not actually grant the Philippines anything. All it did was nullify the 9-dashed line for the benefit of the world at large.

PCA Case No. 2013-19

In the Matter of the South China Sea Arbitration before the Aribitral Tribunal Constituted Under Annex VII to the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea
Between the Republic of the Philippines and the People's Republic of China

From page 84 of the document

5. Exceptions and Limitations to Jurisdiction

161. Finally, the Tribunal examined the subject matter limitations to its jurisdiction set out in Articles 297 and 298 of the Convention. Article 297 automatically limits the jurisdiction a tribunal may exercise over disputes concerning marine scientific research or the living resources of the exclusive economic zone. Article 298 provides for further exceptions from compulsory settlement that a State may activate by declaration for disputes concerning (a) sea boundary delimitations, (b) historic bays and titles, (c) law enforcement activities, and (d) military activities. By declaration on 25 August 2006, China activated all of these exceptions.

The key bit to understand the text above is Article 298, which states

Article 298

Optional exceptions to applicability of section 2

1. When signing, ratifying or acceding to this Convention or at any time thereafter, a State may, without prejudice to the obligations arising under section 1, declare in writing that it does not accept any one or more of the procedures provided for in section 2 with respect to one or more of the following categories of disputes:

(a) (i) disputes concerning the interpretation or application of articles 15, 74 and 83 relating to sea boundary delimitations, or those involving historic bays or titles,
provided that a State having made such a declaration shall, when such a dispute arises subsequent to the entry into force of this Convention and where no agreement
within a reasonable period of time is reached in negotiations between the parties, at the request of any party to the dispute, accept submission of the matter to conciliation under Annex V, section 2; and provided further that any dispute that necessarily involves the concurrent consideration of any unsettled dispute concerning sovereignty or other rights over continental or insular land territory shall be excluded from such submission;

(ii) after the conciliation commission has presented its report, which shall state the reasons on which it is based, the parties shall negotiate an agreement on the basis of that report; if these negotiations do not result in an agreement, the parties shall, by mutual consent, submit the question to one of the procedures provided for in section 2, unless the parties otherwise agree;

(iii) this subparagraph does not apply to any sea boundary dispute finally settled by an arrangement between the parties, or to any such dispute which is to be settled in accordance with a bilateral or multilateral agreement binding upon those parties;

(b) disputes concerning military activities, including military activities by government vessels and aircraft engaged in non-commercial service, and disputes concerning law
enforcement activities in regard to the exercise of sovereign rights or jurisdiction excluded from the jurisdiction of a court or tribunal under article 297, paragraph 2 or 3;

(c) disputes in respect of which the Security Council of the United Nations is exercising the functions assigned to it by the Charter of the United Nations, unless the Security Council decides to remove the matter from its agenda or calls upon the parties to settle it by the means provided for in this Convention.

2. A State Party which has made a declaration under paragraph 1 may at any time withdraw it, or agree to submit a dispute excluded by such declaration to any procedure specified in this Convention.

3. A State Party which has made a declaration under paragraph 1 shall not be entitled to submit any dispute falling within the excepted category of disputes to any procedure in this Convention as against another State Party, without the consent of that party.

4. If one of the States Parties has made a declaration under paragraph 1(a), any other State Party may submit any dispute falling within an excepted category against the declarant party to the procedure specified in such declaration.

5. A new declaration, or the withdrawal of a declaration, does not in any way affect proceedings pending before a court or tribunal in accordance with this article, unless the parties otherwise agree.

6. Declarations and notices of withdrawal of declarations under this article shall be deposited with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who shall transmit copies thereof to the States Parties.

There are a number of things that needed to be pointed out about UNCLOS and the July 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the case of the Republic of the Philippines vs. the People's Republic of China.

First of all, this was a case that the lawyers on the Philippine side designed to win.  As such, to ensure victory, it needed to limit the scope to parameters that could be winnable.  And so the case was never designed to affirm Philippine sovereignty over certain features.......that was a difficult case to prove and easier to disprove.  Add to this the fact that the PCA already made it clear that it did not have jurisdiction over sovereignty, but rather could resolve issues tied to UNCLOS.  What was a winnable case was if they could disprove the legality of China's "Nine Dash Line".  Ultimately, that was what happened, as the "Nine Dash Line" according to the Tribunal had no basis whatsoever under international law.  It also resolved other issues regarding the status of certain features, which has an effect on whether such features would be entitled to 200 nautical mile EEZs in addition to 12 nautical mile territorial seas.  Had any of the features, such as Pagasa Island and Itu Aba been granted "island" status, it would have complicated the issue by causing overlapping EEZs which would have to be settle separately.

As such, as pointed out in the thesis, the PCA decision succeeded in so far as disallowing any claim by China based on its "Nine Dash Line", or any claim based on its claimed "historical basis", and upholding the supremacy of international law.  However, the implied message was also "just because the feature is in your EEZ, does not automatically entitle you to it."  As such, the disputed features within the Philippines' EEZ may or may not belong to the Philippines.  It's just that the Permanent Court of Arbitration did not rule on it, nor did it have the jurisdiction to do so.

So he has the authority to make such a ruling?  To be honest, no one really knows.

Which leads to the second issue........UNCLOS itself, and its lack of an enforcement mechanism.

If anything, a lot of what the UN gets done is done in such a way that if ever there's a dispute, or something that needs to be resolved, it gets brought before the Security Council, with its 10 rotating members and 5 permanent members.

But if the Security Council has an "Achilles heel" its the possibility that the dispute involves one of its Permanent Members (the US, UK, France, Russia, and China), each of which has veto power and can kill a Security Council resolution with a single "no" vote.  Critics of the UN have cited this as the inherent weakness in the UN organization.

We have to remember that the concept of 5 permanent members is born out of the ghost of the UNs predecessor, the League of Nations.  While born of the great idea to prevent war by talking it out in a community of nations, the League lacked the power to force compliance.  And while the League called out nations such as Japan (for aggression in Manchuria) and Italy (for its invasion of Ethiopia), because it lacked the force to enforce, offenders simply thumbed its nose at the League, or in Japan's case, walked out altogether.

The whole idea of 5 permanent members is that the UN could round up the 5 biggest thugs it can find and "push" offending nations into complying and keeping order.  And to some extent it has worked in keeping relatively peace (or at least not outright world war) for over 70 years.

It still doesn't solve the problem:  what if the offender is a permanent member?

Add to that the fact that the biggest proponent in the development of UNCLOS, the United States, has not yet ratified the treaty.

US objections to the treaty have stemmed from provisions about undersea mining and involvement in international bodies and organizations which are seen to diminish US sovereignty in certain areas.  And while some of those issues have been addressed, it has not been enough to get through the ratification process.

Under the US Constitution, ratification of any treaty requires the vote of 2/3 of the US Senate.  At present, that requires 67 votes.  Each time the subject of ratification has come out, at least 34 senators have announced their attention to vote "no" which would kill the treaty.  The Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama administrations have all pushed for UNCLOS ratification.  Most recently in 2012.  However, enough senators came out against ratification that it had to be pulled back from a pending vote.  Had the vote gone through and had been defeated, the treaty can't be brought back again for ratification.

Ironically, the 2016 PCA ruling may have pushed the US even further from ratification.  The ruling reaffirmed the concept that what we would view as islands may really be high-tide features because they are unable to sustain human habitation.  This calls into question three US Pacific possessions:  Howland Island (the famed island where Amelia Earhart was supposed to land in her failed round-the-world trip), Baker Island, and Kingman Reef.  The US claims 200 nautical mile EEZ around all its possessions and under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have turned them into marine sanctuaries.  However, the 2016 PCA ruling calls into question the legality of the EEZs around Howland, Baker, and Kingman Reef.  And the last thing anyone wants to see are Chinese fishing trawlers snooping around there.

In any case, although the US follows the spirit of UNCLOS in following its rules, it lacks the moral authority to force others, like China to comply, simply because it hasn't ratified the treaty.

Some have criticized UNCLOS because it can't be enforced.

However, there is the flip side.......we are having this discussion because UNCLOS exists.

UNCLOS codifies the rules by which the maritime entitlements of all nations are ensured of a 12 nautical mile territorial sea and a 200 nautical mile EEZ.  It is designed to create a fair framework so that all maritime nations are ensure of their rights.

Without UNCLOS, by what are we allowed to claim a 12 nautical mile territorial sea and 200 nautical mile EEZ?  Would we even be having this discussion if UNCLOS didn't exist?  Would the Chinese have simply walked right in and taken it.......end of discussion?  Would we only have the force of our arms to stop the Chinese from claiming our front yard?
« Last Edit: August 13, 2018, 08:05:05 AM by dr demented »

dr demented

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Evaluating the "3rd option": MDT

A strategy that relies on the MDT is a line of thinking with direct lineage to the ill-fated pre-World War II “War Plan Orange” that was supposed to have sent the US Pacific fleet across the Pacific to repulse an Imperial Japanese attack. As USAFEE forces that retreated to Bataan as part of the plan discovered -- the hard way in April 9, 1942 -- the mere threat of retaliation did not prevent invasion, and the promise of reinforcement could be hampered by other more-pressing concerns. Unfortunately for the defenders of Bataan, the attack on Pearl Harbor had put the United States on the defensive and the security of the continental US had become paramount. They had become expendable.

In addition to keeping the Bataan experience in mind, when weighing the value of the MDT as shield, one must also be mindful of the wording of the treaty and the mechanics for enforcement.

Article 4 and 5 of the US-PH treaty states


Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific Area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.

Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall be immediately reported to the Security Council of the United Nations. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.


For the purpose of Article IV, an armed attack on either of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific or on its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.

Arguably, faith in the MDT’s use as a shield against China emanates from these two provisions in the treaty. Particularly in the segments that indicate that an attack on the “armed forces, vessels or aircraft” of either party will trigger the MDT.

But how does this treaty ACTUALLY compare with other mutual defense agreements that the US has with its other allies and how is it enforced?

Treaty that created NATO
Treaty between US and Japan

While the JP-US and PH-US mutual defense treaties both lack the automated response provision of the NATO treaty, the US has categorically declared that they recognize Japan’s claims to the Senkakus. The same cannot be said for the KIG.

The discretionary nature of MDT activation, and the lack of overt commitment to defense of the KIG -- both of which represented the status quo long before the current administration came to office -- should give anyone pause when opting to rely on the MDT as a shield against Chinese aggression.

If understanding the US and its policies is exceedingly complex, then understanding the relationship between the Philippines and the United States in terms of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty takes complexity to a whole new level.  If one were to try to simplify a description of this relationship, one might say that it is the sum total of the ups, downs, twists, and turns of the relationship between the two nations since the US granted full sovereignty to the Philippines on July 4, 1946..........and a whole lot of ambiguity.

A lot of that relationship was ingrained in the long time presence of American forces on Philippine soil vis-a-vis the large bases at Clark and Subic Bay, as well as several smaller bases.  As such, throughout much of that period, the Americans either provided excess defense articles, or in some cases subsidized Philippine military operations, as the Americans needed what it could get to help protect its prized bases in the country.  The Philippines had the personnel, but the Americans had the equipment.

However, beneath the surface, there was a constant cajoling and nagging on the part of the Americans to get the Philippines to do its part to defend itself.  A lot of it can be seen in the following 1972 US General Accounting Office report which outlined how a lot of the funding being sent to the Philippines that was supposed to be used to acquire newer and modern military equipment was being used instead to fund the AFPs normal day-to-day operations.  And that 1972 report essentially reiterated the same findings of an earlier 1966 report (

Thus, the dependency began.  The thinking on the part of Philippine decision makers was, "Why worry about our own defense when Tio Samuel can do it for us."  And judging by the GAO report, the Americans knew it, and were exasperated about it.  But if anything, the Philippines had the Americans by the cajones, and the Americans, if they wanted to maintain the strategic balance in Southeast Asia, could do little but indulge it.

But with the closure of the American bases in 1992, everything had changed.  The world had changed (the Cold War was over).  And the relationship had changed.  The child (the Philippines) decided it was better off on its own.  And the parent (the United States) had realized that it could no longer count on the unconditional cooperation of the child.

But what hadn't changed was the expectation of the child for the freebees and gifts and toys that it had been getting.  It was like the child gave the parent "the finger", but still expected to be spoiled.  It is a reflection of the poor understanding by the child of what the relationship with the parent was all about.  The US had done things that it didn't necessarily do for its other allies.  The US doesn't hand out free equipment to its allies.  The equipment may be dated, but few if any get freebees as the Philippines once did.  Even NATO allies have to pay for American equipment and weapons just like any other customer (with the exception of Iceland, which has no military, but its strategic position in the center of the Atlantic makes it prime real estate).  To this day, that "the Americans will take care of us" attitude still persists.  And while some have recognized the need for the Philippines to defend itself, that dependency has hampered the development of the AFP just as much as any of a number of other factors.

Meanwhile, on the American side, the Americans were still mindful of Philippine attitudes toward its own defense.  Then, as now, they've questioned the Philippines' reliability as an ally, and whether the Philippines would ever be worth the effort.  At the same time, American budgets have increasingly gotten tighter and tighter.  There's no longer the money to be thrown around as their federal budget has had an increasing number of obligations with ever shrinking revenues.  As such, giving dole outs to countries, such as the Philippines, which demonstrably have shown the ability to handle its own affairs, has become politically untenable in the United States as voters/taxpayers have questioned why their taxes should go to such places........and they do let their congressional representatives know about their objections.  And so "the good stuff" continues to go to countries who already shell out billions to buy American equipment and can demonstrate a commitment to their own defense (such as Israel), while countries that insist on playing the role of the needy girlfriend have been left out in the cold.

And then there's the MDT itself.

If anything, the terms of the MDT are ambiguous.

First of all, Article V of the treaty refers to an "an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific or on its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific."

In terms of the Philippines, "metropolitan territory" has been understood to mean those borders of the Republic of the Philippines that were in place at the time the Philippines gained sovereignty from the United States on July 4, 1946.......more or less.  I say "more or less" because since then, those borders have been adjusted to conform with international law, specifically UNCLOS.  These are more or less the borders that the United States recognizes, and these are the borders that are covered under the MDT.

However, that leaves the Kalayaan Island Group and Scarborough Shoal in a gray area.  While the Philippines claims these territories, the United States does not officially recognize Philippine sovereignty over these areas.  The official US policy on the territorial disputes is that it recognizes no one's claim in the disputed areas of the South China Sea, and that the disputes should be resolved peacefully.  As such, the MDT does not apply to the KIG and Scarborough Shoal.

However, the Philippines, rather astutely, has gotten around that by stationing troops in the KIG.  It has also created a makeshift outpost at Second Thomas (Ayungin) Shoal by stationing the derelict WW2-vintage transport BRP Sierra Madre at the shoal.  By virtue of the clause "n its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific", the Philippines has placed indirect MDT coverage over these areas, since an attack on the troops or the ship would in theory trigger the treaty.

The problem, thus, becomes the other ambiguity.......what response would be triggered? 

Article IV of the treaty states:  "Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific Area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.

Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall be immediately reported to the Security Council of the United Nations. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security. "

But the language is very vague in terms of what such a response would be.

It is presumed that in the event of an armed attack on the Philippines, an American president would invoke the 1973 War Powers Act.  Under the terms of the Act, the US President in his or her capacity as commander in chief of the armed forces can act to commit US forces in the event of an emergency.  The President would have 48 hours to inform the US Congress, and US forces can remain in place for up to 60 days, beyond which Congressional approval would be required.

However, the MDT provides no guarantees of such action.  And the US has never made any statement guaranteeing such action.

There may be some historical context.  In the past, the US has been known to implement a policy of "strategic ambiguity".  Such policies are implemented to keep foe AND friend in check, and preventing both sides from taking actions to escalate a conflict or dispute.  The most notable example of this is US policy toward Taiwan.  On the one hand, statements that the US was committed to Taiwan's defense was intended to deter mainland China from invading the island.  However, the US was deliberately ambiguous as to what it would do to defend Taiwan, in order to prevent Taiwan from making aggressive moves which would escalate the China-Taiwan dispute, such as an outright declaration of Taiwanese independence which would almost certainly lead to war.

The same "strategic ambiguity" may be in play in terms of the MDT.

Some of this may be the result of past moves on the part of the Philippines.  The one notable example was moves in the late 1960s/early 1970s to invade Sabah.  The thinking by Philippine decision makers was that they would give it a go, and if it went to hell, or Malaysia invoked its Five Power Defense Arrangement with Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore, it would go running to the Americans and invoke the MDT.

Nixon and his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, put the kibosh on that, stating that the MDT was purely a defensive measure.  If the Philippines started something, it was on its own.

That line of thinking has been kept in place for the better part of 40 years.  And has affected how the South China Sea disputes have been dealt with.  The Americans are well aware that there is a temptation with Philippine decision makers to try to provoke some kind of confrontation such that the US could get dragged in vis-a-vis the MDT.  All in the hope that the Americans would do the Philippines' dirty work for it.

It does call to mind an anecdote that was relayed in the old Timawa forum.  Some admirals from the US Pacific Fleet came to Manila for a visit.  The local politicians were gleeful that they were there, saying that the Americans would fight the Chinese for them.  To which the admirals replied that if the Philippines would take their defense seriously and invest more in their defense, then they would be happy to help.  But if they expected the Americans to do the fighting for them, then they would be on their own.

It's like the bitter complaints once attributed to the GIs of the US 3rd Army during WW2, whose famed commander, Gen. George S. Patton, was referred to as "Old Blood and Guts".  To which the GIs replied, "Yeah, our blood.....his guts."

If the MDT has had any positive effect, it's that the Chinese haven't taken the old Dirty Harry challenge, and tested whether or not they feel lucky.  So far, they haven't taken any overt action, such as attacking the garrison on the BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin Shoal.  The Chinese haven't quite been willing to try to figure out for themselves exactly what the US' MDT response would be.  However, they are still mindful of what the MDT is, and how they can play the MDT.  Actions such as blockading Ayungin Shoal, as well as shadowing the BRP Laguna during its KIG resupply runs in 2017, may serve not just to try to sever the logistical links with Philippine outposts in those far-flung areas.  They know full well that an error or the rash actions of a Philippine trooper could lead a Filipino firing the first shot.  That would make the MDT as worthless as the paper it's printed on, and give the Chinese full license to take whatever action it deemed appropriate.

The MDT may not quite be what many of us hope for.  The real value of the MDT if anything has been to maintain the tenuous status quo in the region.

dr demented

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A fourth option

Star Trek fans would recognize the Duterte administration’s chosen course of action as a “Kobayashi Maru” solution. A re-writing of the rules of the game to win a “no-win” scenario.

A favorable solution to the China-problem requires levels of out-of-the-box-thinking at the executive level traditionally absent from Malancanang. It calls for a uniquely Filipino solution that matures relations with traditional allies -- that are more accustomed to either an overly agreeable Philippine stance or a mendicant mindset; engages non-traditional players to broaden the country’s geopolitical engagements, and redefines PH-CN relations to the Philippines’ advantage. 

The audacious goal of the 4th option is, simply put: to convince China to see things our way. To conduct itself in a manner that conforms to our own laws, thus blurring — if not eliminating — the distinction between how we would conduct our affairs had China simply vanished from the face of the Earth and Duterte’s desired end-state that grants us unimpeded use and access to resources that are ours to begin with. It is full exercise of our sovereignty . . . but without, initially, the pomp and circumstance that comes with it

If China were a bully, Option 1 would have started a fight with the bully that could only end with us in either a wheelchair or the grave. Option 2, surrender, would leave us with nothing. Option 3 would have us pick a fight with the bully while hiding behind a big, but distracted neighbor that retains the option to go to the movies whenever he wants . . . regardless of our fitness to resort to option 1 when we are left alone.

Option 4 would have the bully wonder why he had to act like a douche bag in the first place . . . and learn to play nice. It would not make the bully go away, but would essentially make him leave us alone. All the while . . . wondering who we would side with if he ever decided to picked a fight with our big neighbor.

While the need to continue, even accelerate, the AFP modernization program remains, Option 4 will not be achieved by a feat of arms, as the Philippines currently lacks the martial power to enforce its policies, and its allies remain uncommitted to support Philippines claims. It will not be a result of international pressure, as force and shame simply gives China a domestic-politics-based incentive to dig in its heels.

It will require the use of a mix of incentives, gamesmanship, and polite resolve, to maneuver the kleptomaniac dragon into recognizing our claims, and to conduct its activities -- whatever they may be -- on our terms. IF this plan works . . . it will be a triumph of unconventional diplomacy AND financial deterrence.

Chinese financial self-interest -- not the threat of war -- will force China to respect Philippine law and Philippine claims.

If this approach sounds far fetched and fantastic, contrast it with the alternative:

Cowering behind our allies in the hope that they would fight our battles for us while we have no practical means to join the fight alongside them, and hope that our economy doesn’t stall in the meantime as they finish OUR job for us.

Would the US and our other allies really want to fight for us while we had no skin in the game? It’s worth noting that merely agitating China with diplomatic protests isn’t actually synonymous to “skin in the game”. Poking the dragon without an overall plan for success is a plan to fail.

Option 4 shows our allies that we have matured as a nation, are able to think for ourselves, and is now a capable partner for any nation that chooses to call us friend, rather than a dependent state to be propped up.

How do we know its working?
The key to understanding The President’s intentions is remembering that he is a nationalist first . . . all other labels second. Not communist . . . not internationalist . . . it is Pinoy-first. Any actions in pursuit of that holy-grailish 4th option must, therefore, be viewed in this context.

Words are infamously cheap. Therefore the average Filipino understandably expects to see proof of Duterte’s policies.

Such proof can be obtained in two forms:

What has been prevented
What has already, or is currently, being done

Finally, we get to the crux of the these, which is the 4th option.

Again, I will try to sift through this.  But as I have prefaced in my first reply post, this issues at play are exceedingly complex, with a lot of different factors involved.  And if the discourse I have outline here seems muddles, then it is, in my humble opinion, largely due to the complexity of the issue at hand.

As a general rule, in a complex problem such as this, it is best that one has as many options as possible, and not confine yourself to an either/or situation.  And so it is nice to have the clarity that is outlined here, that defines up to 4 possible options in this scenario.  And I would hope that the readers, both here and in the FB honeypot, would have similar clarity to try to define other possible options.

And so I cringe when one extreme side of the debate tries to define the discussion as the only real choice as being to fight it out to try to reclaim our territories, knowing full well that the inferior state of our armed forces in terms not just of quantity, but also of quality, makes such a conflict a little bit like a confrontation between a puppy and an 18-wheeler Mack truck.  This is Option #1 as outline in the thesis.

Likewise, I also cringe when the other extreme of the debate displays a preference for capitulation over the West Philippine Sea issue.  They mistakenly interpret the moves of the present Duterte administration as such (just as opponents of the administration sometimes describe present policy, but for the opposite reason).  However, those that favor capitulation tend to downplay and/or refuse to see the importance of the West Philippine Sea, not just in terms of sovereignty, but also its relevance with regard to mineral and aquatic resources, and more importantly the Philippines' access to sea lanes which are vital to the country's long term economic growth.  A few also believe that the country can gain "consuelo de bobo" benefits from China in much the same way Philippines once did with the United States.  Here is your Option #2.

Option #3 is never really off the table.  Because if the circumstances change such that Option #4 begins to break down, then the last line of defense becomes Option #3.

To some extent, this is reflected in the the statements put out by the Duterte government in May 2018 which drew "red lines" (reclamation/fortification of Scarborough Shoal, overt move against the BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin Shoal, and unilateral resource extraction in the West Philippine Sea).  If those "red lines" are crossed, Duterte has said he would go to war.

While this may seem like an Option #1 move, then I would refer you back to my earlier comment about Option #1........the part about a puppy taking on a Mack truck.

The Duterte administration's announcement of a "red line" called to mind the US' 1823 promulgation of what became known as the "Monroe Doctrine".  For those not versed in American history, in 1823, then US President James Monroe announced in a State of the Union address that the United States would defend the newly independent nations of Latin America from European intervention.  Of course, the United States of 1823 was a weak military power, having just emerged from near defeat at the hands of the British in the War of 1812, and was hardly in a position to prevent European powers from going in and carving up Latin America.  However it turns out, the British made a similar declaration to the powers of Europe........hand off the Western Hemisphere.  The only difference is that the British could back up that declaration using ships-of-the-line and the cannon of the largest navy on the planet.

I make the analogy of the Duterte "red line" to the Monroe Doctrine in that the Philippines, given the present state of its armed forces is hardly in a position enforce such a "red line", and if anything, we're still struggling to get to the equivalent of the "six frigate" navy that the US had in the War of 1812.  What ultimately is going to enforce Duterte's "red line" is going to be a similar "red line" declaration the Americans have reportedly made regarding any reclamation activities at Scarborough Shoal.  That message was backed up by the overflight of American A-10s and other aircraft over the shoal in 2016, as well as the presence of American patrol aircraft during the 2014 Ayungin Shoal incident when the Chinese attempt to blockade an attempt to resupply the BRP Sierra Madre.

That smells like an Option #3 move to me.

Now, on to the 4th option itself......... (to be continued)

dr demented

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The basic premise of the Fourth Option, this idea that financial gain would be China's motivation to play along, I find it.......well, I have my reservations about it.

It's not that I think it's a bad idea.  If anything, if you are going to try to get China to go for positive encouragement to play nice, then appealing to their sense financial gain would be not just the best way to do it, it's probably the only way to do it.

But that's not where my concerns about Option #4 come from.  It more stems from the thought that financial gain, while a very important objective, is not China's sole motivator.

First of all, the Chinese have a particularly acute sense of national honor.  That sense of national honor is very much tied in with their ideas about sovereignty.  This has been on display since the late 1980s, when began to embark on a national quest to reclaim "lost" territories, not just "lost" within recent history, but also "lost" within the last several centuries.  We saw this with China taking over the Paracels.  We saw this with the Chinese beginning to encroach into Philippine waters.  It culminated with China regaining sovereignty over Hong Kong and Macau.  It is at the roots of China's desire to get Taiwan back.  And it is very much in play with the disputes in the South China Sea.  It has become very much ingrained into the Chinese national psyche that those territories, including the South China Sea, belong to China.  Again, drawing from an example of US History, it has a lot of similarities to the 19th century American concept of "Manifest Destiny", the concept that the Americans had a God-given destiny to settle and rule the American continent.  Likewise, the Chinese feel that they have a similar Manifest Destiny to control East Asia and the Western Pacific.

So while appealing to that sense of financial gain may be a more logical approach, if a Manifest Destiny-like sense of national honor is at play, then that can border on the irrational.  While it could be argued that China could profit from cooperating with the Philippines and even going so far as recognizing Philippine claims, it could be superseded by the loss of face that would be felt by the Chinese nation by conceding something it believes belongs to it, particularly if that concession is made to a country that is perceived as an inferior power or vassal state, such as the Philippines.

This interrelationship between that sense of national honor and sovereignty is also exemplified every time China puts out a press release that pertains to sovereignty issues in the South China Sea, with the oft-repeated phrase "clear and indisputable sovereignty".  Time and again, the Chinese reiterates that it has "clear and indisputable sovereignty over the territories in the South China Sea", seemingly to drive home the point to the entire word as if to repeat the phrase often enough would make it come true. 

Which is what they might in fact be trying to do.

That phrase "clear and indisputable sovereignty" has been repeated so often, that it is apparent that the Chinese have drawn a very hard line with regard to sovereignty, and they have absolutely no intention of compromising, or coming down off of it.  Or at the very least, it's going to take a awful lot for the Chinese to come down off of that stance.

This is why, while others go berzerk whenever talk of joint exploration with the China gets mentioned, or go apes@#t at the talk of 60-40 splits, I just sit back, comfortable of the fact that the Chinese will never, ever accept joint exploration under those conditions.

And this is why they will never ever accept such terms:

If China believes that what we call the West Philippine Sea belongs to China, then the territories in question cannot be offered by the Philippines to China to be jointly explored.  As far as China is concerned, the Philippines is in no position to offer the use of territory which is not supposed to belong to them.

Therefore, if China were to accept such an offer of joint exploration in places like Reed (Recto) Bank, then China would effectively be admitting that the West Philippine Sea does not belong to it.  And this is something the Chinese government cannot do without "losing face".  While this may be a trivial matter in terms of the international scene, it may be more relevant to the Chinese government in terms of domestic politics.  Some have suggested that "face" is tied to the Chinese government's legitimacy, and that their obstinacy with regard to the South China Sea issue may stem from fears that any loss of face may erode their legitimacy in the eyes of the Chinese people.

If anything, it may be possible that the Duterte administration may be making such offers of joint exploration knowing full well that the Chinese would never accept such an offer.  In doing so, the administration can now turn and tell the world, "look, we're trying to be reasonable, they aren't.......who's the a@#hole now."

Of course, the Chinese themselves have made an offer of joint exploration themselves.  How does that reconcile with the fact that they won't accept a Philippine offer?

The Chinese, in their world view, believe that only they have the right to make such an offer.  They believe the territory to be theirs.  Therefore, in their minds, they should make the offer.  I suspect that what the Chinese have in mind is similar to the Pearl River Estuary exploration tracts off the coast of Hong Kong, which the Chinese have leased out to South Korean oil exploration firms.  What they might likely do is offer oil exploration tract to Philippine oil exploration firms in places like the Reed (Recto) Bank, and call that "joint exploration".  In that way, the Chinese would retain sovereignty, and the Philippines gets a piece of the action.

The only problem here is that the Philippines' concept of oil exploration is much like that of China's Pearl River Estuary the tracts out to foreign companies, let the foreigners do the dirty work while the Philippines pockets the money.  There are few, if any, purely Philippine companies that can handle that kind of work.  And so even if the Chinese were to make such an offer to the Philippines, the Philippines might not be able to take advantage of it.  Nor would it necessarily be wanting to do so, since excepting such an offer would be tantamount to conceding sovereignty over the disputed areas.

Secondly, it should be noted that the interplay between the Philippines and China does not take place in a bubble.  This is one important one, but nonetheless one component, of much larger issues, not just of the collective territorial and sovereignty disputes, but also of East Asian affairs, global politics, and the tango that is taking place between two superpowers:  the US and China.  And so changes with those much larger issues will inevitably upset the delicate milieu that is the relationship between the Philippines and China.

Where the 4th option could get upset stems from one basic fact:  in this particular relationship, we are not the party that holds the leverage.  China is holding a lot of the cards:  in terms of military might, in terms of being the force "on the ground" in the disputed territories, and in terms of being the bigger economic power with China accounting for around 20-25% of our exports.  And so with the Chinese holding the leverage, they can, to some extent, dictate the parameters of the relationship.

With that said, move away from the bubble, and let's go to Scarborough Shoal.

At present, Scarborough Shoal has settled into some semblance of a status quo.  While the Chinese still control the shoal, Philippine fisherman have at least been able to operate in the shoal's vicinity (but still not within the shoal itself).  While there are still reports of harassment, such as the forced "trade" of Philippine fishing catches, there aren't the reports of China Coast Guard vessels emptying their bilge keels on some poor hapless Filipino fisherman.

However, the fishing detente doesn't change Scarborough Shoal's strategic importance with regard to control over the South China Sea.  Scarborough Shoal is located in the South China Sea's northeast quadrant.  A base from the shoal would allow whoever occupied the shoal to control that quadrant and the strategically important Bashi Channel between Luzon and Taiwan.  For the Chinese, the Bashi Channel is an important egress point for the PLA Navy to operate in the open Pacific.  And more importantly, control over the Bashi Channel for the Chinese would prevent the US Navy from entering and operating in the South China Sea.

And so here is the conundrum........with the US increasing the frequency and scope of its FONOPs, is there a point where the Chinese decide that military expediency (i.e. countering or even inhibiting US Navy operations in the South China Sea) starts to take precedence over good relations with the Philippines?  And if so, does that result in the Chinese breaking the detente that the Duterte administration has carefully crafted with the Chinese?  Does this mean that the Chinese cross the "red line" and begin to fortify Scarborough Shoal?

And then what?  Do we drift toward Option #3?  Option #1?  Heaven forbid, Option #2?

Option #4 has been described in previous discussions as a way of "buying time".  Buying time often means trading ground for time.  However, with the situation in the West Philippine Sea, the Chinese have backed us up so much that we have now come to the point that "red lines" have become necessary.  We can no longer trade space for time because to back up further would lead to serious consequences and a grave threat to sovereignty, if not outright capitulation.

To say that time is of the essence would be an understatement.  An unpredictable change in the status quo of the region at any given time could upset the situation and find someone pushing hard against one of those "red lines".

Where the 4th option is particularly ingenious is its emphasis on longer-term measures, such as infrastructure projects and economic development.  This accomplishes two things.  First it places the country on a stronger economic foundation, and renders it less susceptible to economic coercion, which is one of the useful "short-of-war" measures that countries such as China and others can wield against the Philippines.  It helps the Philippines gain leverage of its own.  Secondly, a strong economy provides a stable tax base that generates revenue for the government........revenue that can be used to fund national defense projects (among other projects).

But these initiatives take time.  And the Philippines might necessarily have control over that time before it gets backed into a corner.  And so in order for this to work, decision makers need to force their way past the morass that usually characterizes the way things have traditionally gotten done in the Philippines.

But it may not be enough.  And decision makers may find themselves compelled to make additional concessions in order to buy time.  But I would be wary of having to repeatedly resort to that, as over time, we could find ourselves pushed by increasingly difficult concessions until something gets demanded which we are unwilling to concede under any circumstances.

More to follow........

dr demented

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A side word on Option #2........

Both pro- and anti-administration supporters have pointed to the lack of West Philippine Sea patrols as evidence that we have embarked on an Option #2 scenario.  Anti-administration supporters have claimed that we have pulled naval and coast guard patrols out of the WPS and effectively conceded those waters to the Chinese.

Pro-administration supporters have claimed that having any form of naval patrols in the WPS is tantamount to an act of war.

Both sides appear be both right AND wrong.........two things can be equally true.

The assertion that there are no WPS patrols has been debunked by various reports at different times of Philippine Navy ships in the WPS.  The example cited in the thesis of the BRP Gregorio del Pilar anchoring off Pagasa Island is one such case.  But by in large these patrols apparently do continue, though not publicized. 

However, there is a lack of a presence afloat of Philippine vessels in the area.  Hence the claims of lack of patrols.  This is more a function of the lack of naval assets with the capability for extended patrols farther out into the WPS.  While patrols are taking place, the assets being sent out there are woefully inadequate in terms of number and quality.

One of the issues that should be addressed in this "buying time" period needs to be to address the patrol capability gap.  It addresses multiple issues, such as keeping adequate presence in the WPS.  And if the end game is to acclimatize the Chinese to Philippine presence, part of that process would arguably be to get them used to the presence of Philippine OPVs in those waters.  Plus, with all the talk in recent days of a possible deal with Austal, plus past hinting from Hanjin Subic of a possible deal with the DND, it does serve a purpose in terms of economic stimulus and SRDP.

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With regard to issues surrounding the Chinese debt trap.........

To discuss this, we must be reminded of the reality that countries (and even individuals) are still motivated by self-interest.  And so any assistance from any country in any form will always be colored by the cold reality that no one is providing assistance out of the goodness of their own heart.

(and I needn't remind anyone here about the attitude of some in the Philippines that holds that other nations should be obligated give us this and give us that out of the goodness of their heart.)

That being said, with any offer of aid, whether it be from China or anyone else, the old phrase "caveat emptor" (let the buyer beware) would be a prudent reminder.

All the more with China, given their track record of dealings with other countries.  While the thesis points out countries, such as Israel and Indonesia, that have managed to steer clear of the debt trap, there have been a number of others also mentioned in the thesis that have run across the proverbial minefield.

Some have postulated that the Chinese use the debt traps as a means of control, in order to extract concessions from other countries, such as prime business opportunities, votes in the UN, basing rights, etc.  While the author of the thesis counsels that we need to learn from the mistakes of others, and thereby avoid the debt trap, I would advise caution and vigilance.  It would appear that China's intentions when it comes to the loans it provides and the infrastructure financing that it makes available are not so benign as we would like it to be.  Despite the fact that such financing is a source of badly needed capital, the long term costs may outweigh the benefits.

And no, we did not trade loans for artificial islands and reefs.  In the Chinese world view, those artificial islands and reefs already belong to them, and therefore they don't need to give anything to anyone for them.

If anything, in as much as the spotlight has been on Chinese funded projects for the Philippines, few, if any, have actually gotten off the ground.  The infrastructure projects that have gotten underway have mainly been Japanese funded projects.  Which would lend credence to the idea that it might be Japan that the Philippines is really engaging, and not China.

dr demented

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In the midst of writing all of this down this evening, an interesting thought occurred to me........

China has all of the leverage in this situation.  They have forces on the ground.  They have their Maginot Line of sand.  They could waltz right into Scarborough Shoal and essentially close the Wall of Sand's equivalent to the Belgian border.  So why did they stop?  An US' imposed "red line" perhaps?  Maybe.  But it doesn't explain why the Chinese graciously allowed Philippine fishermen to reenter the vicinity of Scarborough Shoal (if not inside the shoal itself).

Why would they ever want to cooperate in going down the road of Option #4?

One possibility is that President Duterte managed to extract concessions from Chinese using the one thing he said he wouldn't use:

Permanent Court of Arbitration Case No. 2013-19:  the Republic of the Philippines vs. the People's Republic of China.

But it wasn't in the way most of us expected it would be used.

If there was one thing the Chinese feared more than anything, it was that a losing ruling before the Tribunal would be used to beat them over the head.  That would have been hugely embarrassing, and resulted in serious loss of face.

It is conceivable that the administration went to the Chinese and extracted some "reasonable" concessions.  In exchange, the Philippine promised not to try to bludgeon the Chinese over the head with that ruling.

If there was one piece of leverage the Philippines had, the PCA ruling was it.  It's not a permanent solution.  But it stabilized the lines, so to speak.

What happens next?  Only time will tell.


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One of my early long-posts about the administration’s communication style. This one came on the heels of Duterte’s “Hitler” remark. This laid the seed for the thesis.

Duterte is crass and foul mouthed. Both of which are counter-productive for a high-profile position where diplomacy is part of the job description. Euphemisms, expressions and statements that fall under the category of “inside jokes” do not translate well -- even beyond domestic regional divides. If even non-Visayans have difficulty making contextual, rather than literal, interpretations of his speeches . . . what hope will a foreigner ever have of This adds avoidable, inexcusably unnecessary, complexity to our foreign relations. Even among our traditional allies who are -- theoretically -- more accustomed to our cultural idiosyncracies and our history.

Rational Duterte supporters will agree with this. In the speeches this month, even Duterte conceded to the issues his language is causing and has started to simply inaudibly mouthing his favorite expression rather than actually verbalizing it. Tacit acceptance that the prevailing state of affairs is, inherently, disadvantageous to the nation as a whole, and his administration in particular.

His demeanor creates problems that didn’t have to be there in a first place. Less unnecessary, extraneous, talk . . . less mistake. Only time will tell the extent to which Duterte FINALLY learns that lesson.

As inexcusable as the Hitler frackas is, there is a method to this madness. In fact, there is even a benefit to appearing mad. Let that sink for a bit . . . then continue reading.

This foul-mouthed persona fits in with a much broader narrative that fits with his trademark approach to law enforcement -- which remains his flagship initiative: Deterrence and fear management..

Duterte is a career government executive who knows how to motivate the population under his care. He is well acquainted with the tools at his disposal . . . to include fear, which he regularly wielded to deter criminals or implement behavioral adjustment when he was a mayor.

The power of fear greatly greatly benefits from uncertainty about the extent to which the President is willing to go against the enemies of the state that he has chosen to target in his war on drugs.

If one keeps this in mind . . . the rationale for his ill-chosen Hitler hyperbole becomes clear. Same goes for his threats to “kill” that he made throughout his campaign and even to this day. It is his intent to the be the drug lord’s worst nightmare, and what nightmare is scarier than Hitler?

Sounding like a mad-man, which a fair number of folks have actually come to believe, lends credibility to his threats.

What folks appear to be missing . . . is that it is actually WORKING for the intended audience. This is evidenced by the sheer number of individuals who’ve actually flooded the existing drug rehabilitation centers.

This is Psychological Operations at its finest people. Any student of martial affairs ought to be familiar the following quote from Sun Tzu

“Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.”

If you can get your enemies, and those that would threaten your way of life, to abandon armed conflict peacefully -- through a combination of incentives and the FEAR of consequences -- then what responsible leader would not try?


Level-headed critics of the President’s methods rightly point out the need for checks and balances. Skeptical critics allege that the President’s threats and antics are evidence that the need for those checks are lost on the President.

It would do the latter category of critic well to remember that Duterte is more intimately familiar with the workings of Philippine jurisprudence than the majority of his critics. He was, after all, a government prosecutor before he entered politics.

The following excerpt from his inauguration speech is relevant to this discussion (see time index 05:27):

“As a lawyer and former prosecutor, I know the limits of the power and authority of the President. I know what is legal and what is not. My adherence to due process and the rule of law is uncompromising”.

Now, consider the following statement he made both in Vietnam and his press conference in Davao after returning from Vietnam, he repeatedly said:

“There is nothing illegal about threatening criminals”

These are threats. Will he act on those threats? If you think he is really crazy . . .

His statements that challenge the status quo also dovetail well with his efforts to establish credibility with the enemies of the state whom he wants to abandon the armed struggle. This is true for both domestic and foreign enemies. His vocal anti-US stance actually neutralizes their go-to response to peace overtures -- that the PH government is merely an "imperialist puppet".

Any serious student of statecraft OUGHT to understand that conversations in front of the media are not the ONLY conversations that take place. The former can even be used to either obfuscate ongoing initiatives, or be used to extract concessions that would otherwise not be possible.

Naturally, the very nature of such discussions require them to remain out-of-sight. Given the controversial nature of the public pronouncements, which fly in the face of long-standing international norms, the diplomatic machines of world governing bodies and world powers are automatically obligated to issue official public rebukes, since failure to do so would appear to be tacit approval of such pronouncements.

Behind closed doors . . . it ought to be safe to say that more rational discussions are taking place. Absence of evidence of such discussions are often touted as evidence of absence, which further complicates the delicate dance that Duterte is apparently making with the status quo. Complicated even further by his lack of tact.


But . . . what if Duterte REALLY crosses the line?

Every level-headed supporter of ANY point of view needs to be mindful of their “Red-lines”. Lines that should never be crossed is support for that point of view is to continue. Related to this, “trip wires” need to be laid down to warn of approach of that line . . . as well as when such lines are crossed.

Many have suggested that Duterte’s statements alone crossed any reasonable red lines. Especially his statements towards the US and overtures towards alternative powers, to inlude the unthinkable: China.

Let’s think about that for a moment.

The ultimate reason why relations with any country are strong in the first place is built upon in the sheer number of out-of-the-sight-of-media relations that exist at all levels of government. The periodic occupant of the Office of the President is but one such relation. It is, of course, a very important position as it dictates the course of foreign policy. But it does not sever all lines of communication and all linkages.

If all 71 years of US-PH relations can be irrepairably damaged by the antics of a single politician, then common-sense dictates that we question that strength -- and nature -- of that relationship in the first place. Look to the Netanyahu incident, prior to the 2012 US elections, for an example of how mature relations between independent nations can take dramatic turns, without permanent effects.

If we are ever to arrive at a resolution with China, a dialogue must take place. It would be foolish to pretend that the it did not exist. One does not defeat a bully by ignoring him. That is done by facing him. Standing up to him as the situation demands, and if necessary defuse the situation with calm words.

At this point in our history, we as a people need to reflect on what it means to be independent, and what it means to be an ally. If there is any legacy that Duterte can leave behind, it would at the very least be this conversation.

How does one know when such trip wires have been triggered? That is what discussion groups like the DRP are for. To foster frank, level-headed, discussions about where things are going. This is why Opus’ decision to shutdown the Timawa forum is atrociously ill-timed, and why it became necessary to create this alternative forum.


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The US-CN trade war exposed that lobbying exists in China. Where there is lobbying, there is leverage. Hence the value of "The 4th option" as a defense against Chinese aggression, an option that can ONLY WORK if we engage with Chinese businesses. With that engagement comes the threat of economic pain.

Corresponding thread on the forum's FB extension here:

Exclusive: China's Unipec to resume U.S. oil purchases after tariff policy change - sources
Florence Tan, Meng Meng

3 Min Read

SINGAPORE/BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s Unipec will resume purchases of U.S. crude oil in October after a two-month halt due to the trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies, three sources with knowledge of the matter said.

The decision to start buying crude oil again from the United States comes after Beijing earlier in August excluded it from its import tariff list.

A source with knowledge of the matter said Unipec will “buy some U.S. crude, loading in October, following the change in Beijing’s policy.”

“Unipec’s imports shrunk when China retaliated by putting crude oil on the tariff list but now it is coming back to normal business with import volumes recovering,” a second source said.

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to discuss commercial deals with media.

< Edited >

Unipec, the trading arm of Asia’s biggest refiner Sinopec (600028.SS) and also one of the largest buyers of U.S. oil, stopped loading American crude in August and September after Beijing announced in June that it plans to impose a 25 percent tariff on crude oil imports from the United States.

Following lobbying by Sinopec, crude was dropped from China’s final tariff list earlier in August, allowing Unipec to resume importing U.S. oil, the sources said.

It was not clear how much U.S. oil Unipec would buy. U.S oil takes about 1-1/2 months to reach China, which means cargoes loaded in October would arrive in November or December.

It also was not clear, however, whether all of the U.S. crude bought by Sinopec would end up in China.

< Edited >


« Last Edit: October 21, 2018, 05:37:33 AM by adroth »


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Shared a copy of the thesis. Let's see where this goes.

« Last Edit: November 18, 2018, 08:50:12 AM by adroth »


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Interestingly . . . Justice Carpio appears to be onboard with the following aspect of the 4th option.

Step Two: Acclimatize China to submitting to Philippine law

Once a dialogue is established, the next step is to test that relationship with activities that are, at the very least mutually beneficial, if not heavily slanted in favor of the Filipino people.

Conducting joint military exercises is a quick-win, as it establishes lines of communication that could be called upon in the event of contentious encounters. For example, both countries pledged to work towards greater cooperation, and establish a hotline between their respective coast guard organizations in December 2016. Bilateral exercises are also being considered.

Beyond military engagements, government sanctioned commercial engagements would be the next logical confidence building measure. It also serves as a means for establishing precedent for getting China to conduct itself on Philippine terms. Commercial engagements are significant for the following reasons:

- It acclimates China to an environment where it is made to play by Philippine rules
- Creates a monetary incentive for China to obey those rules
- It creates a revenue stream that enables the Philippines to afford the acquisition of defenses in case China misbehaves

For commercial engagements, oil exploration is a logical starting point. With Malampaya nearing the end of its useful life the Philippines needs to find a viable replacement and find it fast. Otherwise we will lose an irreplacable revenue stream for the AFP Modernization Trust Fund, which is allowed the DND-AFP to receive funds beyond what is allocated by the National Budget.

The Department of Energy has identified numerous potential drilling sites around the country for petroleum exploration, both within Philippine territorial waters and within the country's EEZ. Whether it be by design, or by happy circumstance, the first drill site to reach commercial viability is a site whose Service Contract had already been sub-contracted to a Chinese company for exploitation: The Alegria Oil Field in Cebu.

President Rodrigo Duterte dials the valve of one of the Polyard wells and the pipe (left side) lights up which signals fuel is coming out. The oilfield is located in Alegria, Cebu. Photo by Arni Aclao.

Not only does the Alegria field serve as a viable supplement, and eventually an alternative, to Malamapaya, it serves as an acid test for PH-CN cooperation, which can then be use a template for future collaboration -- even in the contested waters of the West Philippine Sea.

The Alegria Oil field is not the only opportunity to test China's ability to behave itself. The Calamian oil field, which is covered by Service Contract 57 and had been awarded to a Chinese company since 2006, would be an incremental increase in Chinese involvement. Like Alegria, Calamian would be clearly within Philippine territory, and thus conducted under Philippine laws.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque issued the statement days after he announced that there are two areas that may be subjected to joint exploration by the Philippines and China, namely SC 57 and SC 72.

< Edited >

“As far as 57 is concerned, they will comply with the decision with La Bugal [ruling]. They can participate in exploration and exploitation provided, as the decision says, we have ultimate control over the exploration and the development,” Roque said.

The Palace official also confirmed that China would be under the control of the Philippines during the joint exploration on SC 57.

“They’re only a foreign entity engaged in exploration and development. But they have to do it under Philippine laws,” Roque said.

< Edited >

These test cases are not only important for PH-CN relations, it is also important for the morale of the country. While Duterte's supporters remain as rabid as ever, and Social Weather Survey results show that the President continues to enjoy healthy popular support it, remains important to help the "the other side" get past the obfuscation-laden discourse and, at the very least, reach a common understanding of the plan. Because it is only with that common-understanding that a rational discussion about the merits, and demerits, of the plan can be had.

For both supporters and critics, ventures like the Alegria Oil field provide an opportunity to observe how the Chinese government conducts business, and see for themselves if China will attempt to replicate the horror stories reported in other countries: from debt traps to deals that allegedly impose a form of neo-colonialism in partner countries.

While the administrator's detractors point to these international examples as the inevitable outcome of the President's pivot-to-China and are integral to their allegations of Duterte's intent to "sell-out" to China, the 4th option actually requires the country to muster the fortitude to court danger -- to create the monetary incentive mentioned earlier and coax China have skin-in-the-game with a rules-based relationship with the Philippines -- while firmly keeping all enforceable agreements within the bounds of what is in the best interests of the Philippines.

Check out the point about service contracts here.

MOU on oil development recognizes Philippine sovereign rights, Carpio says
Ellen Tordesillas (Vera Files) - November 25, 2018 - 10:19am

MANILA, Philippines — Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio said Friday China could be recognizing the sovereign rights of the Philippines in the disputed waters of the South China Sea covered in the recently-signed Philippines-China Memorandum of Agreement on Cooperation on Oil and Gas Development through service contracting arrangements as provided in the MOU.
Answering a question on the vagueness of the MOU signed by Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping last week, he took note of this portion of the MOU:

"China authorizes China National Oil Corporation (CNOOC) to be the Chinese enterprise for each Working Group. The Philippines will authorize the enterprise (s) that has/ have entered into a service contract with the Philippines with respect to the applicable working area or, if there is no such enterprise for a particular working area, the Philippine National Oil Company –Exploration Corporation (PNOC-EC) as the Philippine enterprise(s) for the relevant working group."

China as service contractor

"So there's a recognition of service contracting by the Philippines. The way I interpret the MOU is that this is a cooperation by the Philippines with China on oil and gas activities through service contractors," Carpio said during a forum on "Maritime Disputes in the South China Sea-Navigating the Diplomatic Waters,"  organized by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and the Rizalino S. Navarro Policy Center for Competitiveness at the Diamond Residences in Makati.

"So China comes in by being a contractor of our service contractor or taking equity position in our service contractor or both. So China will come in through service contractors. That's my interpretation," he also said.

< Edited >


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In any case, with the Department of Defense now under Jim Mattis, we have seen an increase in tempo of FONOPs, with increased military-like activity taking place with the 12 nautical mile zones claimed by Beijing.  They also publicly disinvited China from the recently concluded Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2018 exercises, citing Chinese activities in the South China Sea.  But only time will tell where things will go from here.

Add to this an air of unpredictability which comes with the man occupying the Oval Office, Donald J. Trump.  He has publicly criticized allied nations, to the point that many of them have questioned whether the United States would own up to its alliance and treaty obligations so long as Trump is president.  At the same time, Trump has cozied up to nations that have been traditional adversaries of the US, such as Russia.  And there are lingering suspicions that Russia may have had direct involvement in the election of Trump as president in 2016.  Likewise, there have also been reports that members of Trump's family have used their influence in government to facilitate business dealings in China and/or with the Chinese government.

Despite all this, Trump has proven a mixed bag when it comes to getting legislation in his program passed.  Despite his party having majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, little of his legislative agenda has been pushed through, apart from his tax reform program.  That program, which created billions of dollars in tax cuts directed at upper income individuals and corporations, is projected to add trillions to an already large national debt according to an independent US Congressional study.  And as such, it becomes questionable whether the funding would be there for important big ticket defense initiatives such as the expansion of the US Navy to 355 ships, Coast Guard modernization, and border security.   

Trump also seems to have a very different way of doing things.  Some believe that his approach is more bilateral in nature, preferring to deal one-on-one rather than work in coalitions as his predecessor did.  His thinking also tends to be more transactional, a reflection of his business background.

How this bodes for the's hard to say, given Trump's penchant for unpredictability and (from his Twitter posts) volatility.  He seems to get along well with President Duterte (much in the same way that he seems to get along with Kim Jong Il, Vladamir Putin, and Recep Erdogan), and have a common foe in terrorism.  But Trump's frequent clashes with close traditional allies have caused some to wonder whether the US could ever again be trusted to keep its word.

As with any discussion, it is periodically prudent to revise the discussion to reflect the ever-changing situation.

This particular update centers upon the resignation of US Defense Secretary James Mattis.

While the resignation, announced by a tweet from President Trump, was described as Mattis' "retirement", it is apparent from the text of Mattis' resignation letter that the Secretary of Defense's departure stems from a fundamental dispute in policy.

Dear Mr. President:
December 20, 2018

I have been privileged to serve as our country’s 26th Secretary of Defense which has allowed me to serve alongside our men and women of the Department in defense of our citizens and our ideals.

I am proud of the progress that has been made over the past two years on some of the key goals articulated in our National Defense Strategy: putting the Department on a more sound budgetary footing, improving readiness and lethality in our forces, and reforming the Department’s business practices for greater performance. Our troops continue to provide the capabilities needed to prevail in conflict and sustain strong U.S. global influence.

One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. NATO’s 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.

Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model – gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions – to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.

My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.

Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position. The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed as well as to make sure the Department’s interests are properly articulated and protected at upcoming events to include Congressional posture hearings and the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in February. Further, that a full transition to a new Secretary of Defense occurs well in advance of the transition of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September in order to ensure stability within the Department.

I pledge my full effort to a smooth transition that ensures the needs and interests of the 2.15 million Service Members and 732,079 DoD civilians receive undistracted attention of the Department at all times so that they can fulfill their critical, round-the-clock mission to protect the American people.

I very much appreciate this opportunity to serve the nation and our men and women in uniform.


James N. Mattis

It is believed that the direct trigger for the resignation was the announced withdrawal of US troops from Syria (with a declaration of "victory" over ISIS) and the partial withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.  The withdrawal of troops is perceived to be an abandonment of Kurdish allies in Syria and the Afghan government, as well as a reneging of US obligations within the NATO alliance with respect to Afghanistan. Mattis and Trump are believed to have clashed many times in the past over Trump's repeated berating of traditional close allies, and his cozying up to authoritarian regimes like Russia and North Korea.

There are also suspicions that President Trump's intent to withdraw US troops is tied to his connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Russia views Syria as part of its sphere of influence in the Middle East.  In recent weeks, lingering suspicions have continue to fester with regard to the role the Russians played in President Trump's election campaign of 2016, with the indictment and conviction of key members of Trump's campaign committee, as well as his personal lawyer.

How does this all tie back to the Philippines and our previous discussion?

Mattis, in his resignation, pointed out how strongly he believed in the alliances that the US kept with other nations, and how important it was that the US honor its agreements and that it should respect its allies.  The context of the resignation letter seems to indicate that this was the key point of disagreement between himself and his boss.  And in the end, Mattis, felt that he had to step out of the way, as the President had the right to have a Secretary of Defense that was more in line with the President's views.  Trump's public statements with regard to US allies bear that out.

As Secretary of Defense, Mattis seemed to be the most out front in terms of chastising China for its actions in the South China Sea.  You really didn't see that kind of talk from other members of the Trump Administration.  Not from Tillerson when he was at State, nor from his successor Pompeo.  A little bit from Mike Pence.  Nothing from the UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley.  And certainly nothing from Trump himself.  As pointed out previously, the tempo of Freedom of Navigation Operations has increased with Mattis in the Pentagon.  Mattis has also met with Philippine officials, and in particular DND officials, on multiple occasions.  A few more goodies came tumbling out, such as long-asked-for missiles around the time of the Marawi crisis.

If anything, any rifts that seem to have appeared in the relationship between the US and Philippines seemed to have been patched over with Mattis in the Pentagon.  Or at least they seemed to coincide.

It does beg the question:  is American policy with regard to China's actions in the South China Sea something that is germane to the Trump Administration itself?  Or is it something that Mattis was really trying to push behind the scenes?

And with Mattis gone, and given Trump's attitudes toward the US' alliance obligations, what does this mean for the Philippines and its defensive arrangements with the US, and the overall bigger picture of the disputes in the region?

As pointed out in earlier comments, Trump has a marked tendency toward unpredictability and volatility.  At best, this unpredictability might be expected to continue, and may further call into question the US' reliability as a partner and ally.  And at worst, there may be veracity in the allegations that have been leveled at President Trump, and that his actions are bent toward serving certain interests which may not necessarily be in the best interests of the Philippines.