By Felix K. Chang, Senior Fellow Foreign Policy Research Institute
Reviewed by John Sylvester
The Philippines have had second thoughts about having booted the American military bases out of their country. Mr. Chang describes them well.
Since our seizure of their islands in the Spanish war, the Filipinos have had ambiguous feelings towards the USA: comfort with much of the American connection and high sensitivity over what is seen as colonial dependence. Nationalist politicians naturally harp on the issue. In the 1990’s this resulted in the expulsion of our Navy and Air Force from their fine bases respectively at Subic Bay and Clark Field, the latter, as Mr. Chang notes, taking place symbolically under wet ash as Pinatubo Volcano erupted simultaneously with a large typhoon.
More recently, however, China has truculently asserted its territorial claims in the South China Sea. Moreover, it has conspicuously modernized and strengthened its military, notably its blue water navy. The Philippines, among other Southeast Asian nations, also has claims to the atolls and waters there. In 1995 the Chinese built a structure on the appropriately named Mischief Reef, one of these Philippine-claimed atolls, and now continues to send its fishing boats and government vessels to the disputed Scarborough Shoal and others islands close to the Philippines.
The end of our Mutual Bases Treaty with the Philippines accelerated a decline in Philippine defense capabilities, now making Manila increasingly nervous about a “China threat” and much more amenable to military ties with the United States.
Mr. Chang describes what may be done under a new Framework Agreement on the Increased Rotational Presence of the U.S. Military: “Once in effect, it would allow American forces to regularly rotate through the island country for joint U.S.-Philippine military exercises, focusing on maritime security, maritime domain awareness, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The new agreement would also allow the United States to preposition the combat equipment used by its forces at Philippine military bases. That, in turn would save the time and fuel needed to fly in such equipment and keep it close at hand in case of a crisis. Eventually, the frequency of U.S.-Philippine exercises would increase to the point where there would be a routine American presence in the Philippines.
This is part of the American “pivot” to East Asia. Already, American Special Forces are advising Philippine forces against insurgency in the southern islands. The Philippine government is buying new armaments and even has a defense accord with its old enemy, Japan. For us, it is, as Mr. Chang notes, nice to be wanted again in the Philippines, but our stronger ties there and elsewhere in Southeast Asia also link us closely to the core of regional disputes and add fire to our rivalry with China.