More US, Japanese access to Philippines’ bases?

This article from the People’s Daily suggests that might be on its way: 

 

The Philippines is considering giving the United States and Japan greater access to Manila’s military bases, the country’s defense secretary said on Thursday. 

 

The article quotes an analysts who notes, and I don’t doubt this, that the US is wary of being “kidnapped” by the Philippines on this issue, especially given Manila’s handling of disputes. And it’s not as if US-Philippines relations around the military are all rosy.

Nonetheless, it’s another sign of the times as the ASEAN countries meet.

Japan’s possible involvement shows how remote these concerns about Japan’s imperial past are for South China Sea countries.

 

Shooting of Taiwanese fisherman to muddy dynamics of China’s sea disputes

 

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The apparent killing of a Taiwanese fisherman by the Philippine Coast Guard will only muddy the ongoing dispute in the South China Sea, giving the mainland Chinese more reason to assert their claims against the Philippines.

A 65-year old Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-cheng was shot by the PCG on Thursday morning as he operated 304 kim off the southern coast of Taiwan

China’s hard-line Global Times writes:

 

Beijing’s next step depends primarily on how officials in Taiwan react – whether they have the courage to lift their “concern” to “strong condemnation” and whether they wish for help from the mainland.

 

Thus far, Taiwan’s attitude has remained warm despite frictions with other stakeholders. If they make representations to the Philippines themselves, this matter will end with nothing definitive, or perhaps at most, compensation from the Philippines.

 

If it is confirmed the Philippine navy is behind the shooting, the mainland should show its stance by intensifying navy activities in the disputed water between the mainland and Philippines.

 

Of course, if China can successfully back Taiwan here, it could have implication for the East China Sea, Senkaku-Diaoyu Island dispute, where Taiwan has forged an agreement with Japan over fishing right’s there. Should Taiwan countenance mainland China’s support or pressure, I imagine it would embolden Beijing to take actions to “support” Taiwan if a new dispute ever emerged between Japan and Taiwan.

The same Global Times piece notes:

Most of the analysts from the Chinese mainland speculated that because the Philippines was awed by the might of the Chinese mainland, it had vented its anger on Taiwan …

 

ASEAN progress on maritime disputes – full steam ahead

It doesn’t look like it’s going China’s way.  

The UN has set up the arbitration court the Philippine government requested in January resolve the stand-off over the islands. During the recent ASEAN meeting Secretary-General Le Luong Minh was asked what would happen if China rejects negotiations with ASEAN on island disputes. 

“So we will strive to invite China to engage in this process and we hope to get a peaceful solution to the issue of the South China Sea,” he added.

China, meanwhile, accuses the Philippines of attempting to legalize its “occupation” of the Scarlborough Shoal. 

China’s attitude is that the “durable solution” the Philippines seeks is the same as a ruling on sovereignty.

by initiating the arbitration on the basis of its illegal occupation of China’s islands and reefs, the Philippines has distorted the basic facts underlying the disputes between China and the Philippines. In so doing, the Philippines attempts to deny China’s territorial sovereignty and clothes its illegal occupation of China’s islands and reefs with a cloak of “legality”. The Philippines’ attempt to seek a so-called “durable solution” such as this and the means it has employed to that end are absolutely unacceptable to China.

So last year, it was point to China. This year, ASEAN is aiming to find common ground on the issue ahead of planned discussions with Beijing later this year.

You would think that for all Beijing’s talk about soft-power someone there could step back from the issue and see how this looks to the non-Chinese claimants and by extension the world. But then maybe not. Because this may not be about China dealing with the outside world but China dealing with internal forces.

The Philippines to be undeterred at ASEAN summit

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The Philippines, currently grappling with China in a dispute over territory in the South China Sea, will push for a code of conduct on maritime disputes at the next Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Brunei from April 22-25. Good luck, Philippines. The last ASEAN meeting in Cambodia in July 2012 ended without the association producing a comunique for the first time in its 45-year history. The reason? Deep splits among member nations over China.

Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Raul Hernandez said that ASEAN senior officials and ministers, “were able to come up with and agreed upon the elements of the Code of Conduct that would be shown and discussed with the Chinese.”

“But, as you all know, the Chinese side has said that they will only discuss this with ASEAN when the time is ripe. And we are hoping that the time is ripe is now for such discussion because this actually would be very good and this would be good for the region, and this will put peace and stability and freedom of navigation in the area that we are talking about,” he added.

Four countries, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, and Vietnam have active disputes with China over territorial issues. The Philippines has since taken their dispute over the Scarborough Shoal (pictured above) in the West Philippine Sea to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, which the Chinese dismissed. China claims the whole South China Sea as part of its territory.

As the Diplomat noted before the debacle of the last meeting…

There’s no doubt that ASEAN is split on the issue of China and territorial disputes. What is less clear is whether ASEAN’s disunity is simply playing into China’s hands, allowing it to deal with each country individually, or whether Beijing is actively driving a wedge between ASEAN members that oppose China and those that are more sympathetic to the Chinese position.

“Beijing has consistently pursued a strategy to prevent the South China Sea issue [becoming] one between China and ASEAN,” suggests Zhang Baohui, an associate professor at Lingnan University. “It has argued that the any conflict is bilateral. To this end, Beijing has succeeded by using a few Southeast Asian countries to prevent the emergence of a united ASEAN agenda or strategy.”

I wouldn’t get my hopes up for this meeting. But it will be interesting to see if the language changes among members. Possibly after the Japan-Taiwan deal on the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, Beijing will grow more alert to the risk of further deal-making among its regional competitors. We’ll see. But you have give the Philippines credit for not rolling over to China.