Manila and beyond

WASHINGTON’S 10-YEAR military deal with the Philippines is more than a bilateral arrangement. Though US President Barack Obama takes pain in defining it as the beginning of a new era with its former colony, and is not Beijing-specific, the salient features of the accord suggest that it is meant to contain China.

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Published: Wed 30 Apr 2014, 9:56 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 5:25 PM

This new understanding will enable US forces a greater presence in the South China Sea and as per arrangement ships and aircraft will rotate through the Philippines on specific deployments. The US artillery and warships will be back in defence of Philippines after a gap of more than two decades. The earlier pact, wherein the US stationed its forces in Subic Bay, was stationary in essence. This right to move around in the high seas and fly sorties is likely to be contested by China, which has already enforced its own doctrine of air-defence zone south of its territorial waters. Moreover, America’s backing of Manila to seek United Nations arbitration over its maritime disputes against China will lead to renewed confrontation in the region. This is where Obama’s thrust that the defence pact is not against China will be open for debate. Nonetheless, the US president’s contention that it was not planning to rebuild old bases or construct new ones under the security pact should serve as some consolation to Chinese armed forces that literally seem to be getting restless as disputes are on the rise with Japan, South Korea and low-lying Pacific states.

Obama’s four-nation trip to Asia, nonetheless, saw him playing safe as he stopped short of furthering an impression that he is out to cobble a new military nexus against Beijing. Thus in Tokyo and Seoul, Obama restricted himself to reassuring its allies that Washington is at the beck-and-call whenever they needed it, but advised them not to burn their fingers while dealing with China. What Obama missed during his visit to the region is to tap the potential of directly engaging North Korea. The Nobel Peace Prize winner could have written history if he had even addressed the reclusive leader, Kim Jong-un, from across the Armistice divide, calling him for a broad-based dialogue without any preconditions. This is what Kim wants as his leadership obsession to get talking with Washington. His foul mouthing against the South Korean leader as Obama flew out of Seoul was nothing but a bizarre attempt to convey the message that he was left high and dry! Obama’s Asia Pivot is half-addressed as Trans-Pacific Trade is still a non-starter, as regional states have their own priorities while dealing with their neighbours in bilateral realms.

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