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Causing trouble in the S. China Sea will hurt Manila

One country in Asia is a regular source of problems. One might ask whether it fears being overlooked. That country is the Philippines. 

Playing hardball with China

On July 15 a spokesperson from the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said that China’s unequivocal stance on the South China Sea dispute, requiring that recognition of China’s sovereignty over the South China Sea be the premise of any negotiations, made it impossible for Manila to conduct any further negotiations with China. 

At the same time that the Philippines has blocked the pathway to negotiations with China, it has thrown open its doors to the U.S., a country towards which Manila is happy to extend the greatest confidence. 

The Philippine government pointed out on July 13 that U.S. president Obama has warned China not to resort to arms or other threats in resolving maritime disputes with neighboring countries. Although the spokesperson for the Philippine president did not specify that Obama’s attitude was intended to support the position of Manila, he stressed that the Philippines shared the same stance with the U.S.

There is an important factor behind the tough stance currently being promoted by Manila - internal pressure. When he assumed power Benigno Aquino III made commitments to fight against corruption and poverty, and offered guarantees of reform. But faced with the high unemployment rate, the frequent occurrence of natural disasters, and little to show by way of political progress, the Philippine people are rapidly becoming disillusioned. Manila needs to find an “enemy” to distract the people’s gaze. 

Currying favor with the U.S.

Under the American policy of “rebalancing” in the Asia-Pacific region, former U.S. defense secretary Leon Panetta announced last year that the U.S. would deploy 60 percent of its military forces in the area. This year the current U.S. defense secretary Chuck Hagel has confirmed that 60 percent of U.S. air force and Marine Corps would be deployed in this region, and announced that distribution of advanced weapons will be made a priority. 

This strategic adjustment delights the Philippines, which already considers itself an ally of the U.S. and is more than happy to play the role of its pawn.

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