One of the predictable consequences of Obama’s Asia-Pivot is that, by boosting support to all of China’s U.S.-allied neighbors, those countries are emboldened to stand up to China as an enemy and China is likewise emboldened to counter the onslaught. Needless to say, this makes conflict more likely.
China’s most daring adversary in Southeast Asia is, by many measurements, ill-suited for a fight. The Philippines has a military budget one-fortieth the size of Beijing’s, and its navy cruises through contested waters in 1970s hand-me-downs from the South Vietnamese.
From that short-handed position, the Philippines has set off on a risky mission to do what no nation in the region has managed to do: thwart China in its drive to control the vast waters around it.
So, tiny little Philippines is angling for a fight with China despite a military budget one-fortieth the size of Beijing’s. Are we surprised?
Throughout 2012, the U.S. increased its military and economic support for the Philippines government while at the same time expanding the American military presence in the country. This at a time when the Obama administration publicly pledges to support any U.S. ally that is threatened by China and vocally chastises Beijing for subtly staking claims to contested maritime territories. Undoubtedly, Manila got the right message.
But the militaristic response to 21st century China was not obvious to all Filipinos. “Analysts say the Philippines’ strategy, in standing up to Asia’s powerhouse, is just as likely to backfire as succeed,” the Post continues. “But it provides a crucial test case as smaller countries debate whether to deal with China as a much-needed economic partner, a dangerous maritime aggressor, or both.”
And there is the rub. Conceivably, China and its neighbors could be getting along great through further economic trade and interdependence. The same goes for the U.S.-China relationship, but Washington has instead aimed to turn peaceful economic exchange into a casus belli – and encouraged its smaller Asian allies to do the same.
Related: See my recent piece in The Washington Times, The Asia Pivot: Making an Enemy of China.