“Japan just made a port call [Defense News, 4/3/2016], in the Philippines, in a sign of support to the country as it hedges its bets against China's territorial ambitions. Defense News [4/3/2016] reports that Japan sent two destroyers, the JS Ariake and JS Setogiri, and a submarine, the Oyashio, to Subic Bay on Sunday [4/3/2016]. The visit marks increasing cooperation between the two countries as both are locked in disputes with China over its claims to islands in the region. The visit also marks the growing importance of the Philippines as a base for operations in the South China Sea. The U.S. recently signed a deal with Manila that gives U.S. forces access to five bases in the country, marking a return to the country since it closed down the U.S. Navy base at Subic Bay in the early 1990s.”
“The U.S. Navy might be gearing up for a third freedom of navigation exercise [Reuters, 4/2/2016 quote an unnamed source offered on 4/1/2016] soon near disputed Chinese territory in the South China Sea. An unnamed source tells Reuters [4/2/2016, US officials speaking after Reuters reported the plan…] that the operation will take place in early April but other sources say no such operation is scheduled to take place in the near future. The source says the exercise is likely to involve a smaller ship and not the aircraft carrier USS Stennis currently in the region. China has registered mounting displeasure with the U.S. flybys and sail-throughs in recent months. In a meeting on the sidelines of the nuclear summit in Washington last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping told [South China Morning Post – Diplomacy & Defence, 4/1/2016] President Obama that "China will not accept any act under the disguise of freedom of navigation that violates our sovereignty and damages our security interests."
From the second excerpt, it is interesting to point out that a reputable mainstream medium- Reuters, would report a claim made by an unnamed source on 4-1-2016 (April Fool’s day) which was then denied by an unnamed US official right away. Reuters decided to publish these unnamable quotes anyway [4/2/2016]. McLeary cites Reuters but omits yet another unnamed quote in the Reuters report, “"Our long-standing position is unchanged - we do not take a position on competing sovereignty claims to naturally formed land features in the South China Sea," a senior Obama administration official said on Saturday [4/3/2016]. “ I inserted the bracketed dates in the above paragraphs just to call readers’ attention: An unnamable source’s April Fool’s Day story would get mainstream media such diligent reporting and following-up is amazing in Journalism. One must ask, what is going on here and what is the hidden agenda? Were the media being manipulated by the government or the media were anxious to fabricate catchy news to manipulate foreign relations?
From the first excerpt and its source of Defense News, it is clear that Japan is an eager player in the US-Japan-the Philippine joint ‘freedom of navigation’ exercise to show naval power. The port call came on the eve of war games between the United States and Filipino troops in the Philippines. The Philippine Navy spokesperson, Commander Lued Lincuna said: “The [Japanese Navy] visit is a manifestation of a sustained promotion of regional peace and stability and enhancement of maritime cooperation between neighboring navies.” Earlier in the year, Japan agreed to supply the Philippines with military hardware in the categories of anti-submarine and reconnaissance aircrafts as well as radar technology. In 2014, the Philippines and South Korea announced the completion of negotiations for the acquisition of 12 lead-in fighter trainer jets from South Korea with the intention to convert them to fighter jets as the new fighter jets are too expensive. It is also interesting to point out that the Subic Bay, one of the military bases Manila agreed to let the U.S. use, was closed down in 1990 after unrest and two US airmen and one US marine were killed.
I am not an expert on Philippine history, but I assume that Filipino historians and government would not white wash history textbooks like Japan did to twist the facts and cover the Japanese Imperial Army’s war crimes. Although the Philippines did not have the same treacherous fate like China had in the 19th to 20th century facing invasions by seven Western powers and the Imperial Japan, but she had her share of colonialism or occupation by the Spanish, American and the Japanese. There were wars with Spain, the U.S. and during the WW II with Japan. Just taking the Subic Bay and the nearby Olongapo for example, Philippines lost in the Spanish (Philippines)-American war (1898-1899). The American Navy (destroyer Charleston, Concord, Montgomery, Supply ship Zafaro, etc.) overpowered the Filipino resistance at Subic and elsewhere. The Treaty of Paris signed (12-19-1898 effective 4/11/1899) between the United States and Spain basically forced Spain to cede Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines to the United States. Thus Subic Bay became a US Naval base. During November 1941, WW II, Japan attacked Olongapo and marched in on 1/10/1942 then captured Subic Bay. Under Japan’s rule, forced labor and comfort women (including Filipino, Chinese and Formosan (Taiwan people) shipped in) were used to build wooden ships and to serve as sex slaves to the Japanese army. In the end the wooden ships were destroyed by US air force. The Japanese army used American prisoners to board their ship decks to avoid air raids.
In view of the past history and Philippine’s geopolitical position, it is illogical that the Philippines would engage military alliances with Japan and the U.S. to target her biggest neighbor China which never invaded the Philippines in her thousands years of history. If the resources in South China Sea were the objective, it would make more sense for the Philippines to join hands with China to explore such resources than to prepare for war, especially a war in proximity to Philippine’s territory. In modern warfare, for short decisive war, it is advantageous to engage the war in the enemy’s territory rather than near one’s own region. Japan’s ambition is to regain her ability to attack far from Japan to exert her military power returning her to past glory. The U.S. has always smartly kept the wars far away from her territory. What would Philippine gain by drawing war close to herself? Weren’t the Filipino-America and Filipino-Japanese wars good history lessons? Buying planes or military weapons from other country only benefit the other countries.
Considering Philippine’s foreign relation, it seems that having the right diplomatic relationship with China can only be beneficial to Filipino economy and the Philippines. A good Sino-Filipino relation may give the Philippines some leverage in dealing with her Asian neighbors. History always provide good lessons, the Philippines should examine her own history and the modern history of Puerto Rico (under US administration and in debt), Hong Kong (liberated from British colonialism and a significant growing economy), Singapore (independent, neutral and a healthy economy) and China (a country that will lift the world economy, in peace, and drag the world down in war) to arrive at a win-win foreign relations with China instead of being a pawn in the ‘pivot’ and ‘freedom of navigation’ game.