The Manila Times

The winds of war


TODAY, many parts of the world are in a state of belligerency. We are not in a state of war in the classic paradigm of the previous two world wars. But we are getting there. Not since the end of the Cold War in 1989, the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the rise of China, the conflagrations in the Middle East and even the insanity of North Korea — was the world nearer to the abyss. The Russia and Ukraine shooting war between old allies, hyped to end within months with Russia on top has turned into a surrogate war involving NATO, threatening to spill over dangerously. But this is just a symptom of a much bigger peril the world faces today. This climate of war pervades in all regions heightened by power rivalry. In Asia where the Philippines is caught between two hegemons — America and China — war is inevitable.

My Manila Times November 2019 column featured a book, Destined for War (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017), by Graham Allison. The book described the rise of China and its impact on the world, particularly on America’s position as the architect of the international order that has prevailed for seven decades since 1945. Ingrained in this architecture are the basic tenets of Western thought: democracy and the rule of law, free enterprise, global trade — America’s instruments that propelled it to hegemony in the aftermath of World War 2.

Thucydides trap

Allison proposes that the impact of China’s rise will cause “… discombobulation to the US and the international order.” He cited Thucydides, the Greek historian who first defined the concept of history in his History of the Peloponnesian War 2,500 years ago. He suggests, “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.” Applying this to the current status of America confronted with the rise of China, Allison conceived the “Thucydides Trap, a dangerous dynamic that occurs when a rising power threatens to displace a major ruling power.” In this case China, the rising power, threatens to displace the ruling power, the United States. Will war ensue, as in Athens versus Sparta?

PH ‘urong-sulong’ foreign policy

Over the years Philippine foreign policy has been dictated by the exigencies of our special relations with America, having been its first colony in an attempt at hegemony in Asia at the turn of the last century. The most serious breach in this relationship was in 1991 during President Cory Aquino’s watch when the Senate in a failed negotiation for greater annual bases’ rental, terminated the Military Bases Agreement with America signed in 1947; this was mendicancy disguised as a Filipino-centric, sovereignty-laden foreign policy. This assertion exacerbated by the emotional ties with its former colonizers polarized the country.

But Cory’s son, President PNoy signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperative Agreement (EDCA) reversing course and allowing US troops’ “rotational presence” in Philippine military bases. Subsequently, President Duterte, flaunting his personal distaste for America, sought to abrogate EDCA with his “pivot away from America” in that famous April 9, 2018 speech, “I love Xi Jinping,” establishing closer ties with China. The current Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. regime has succumbed to US pressure and even added four more EDCA bases. This was apparently in anticipation of the coming war with China over Taiwan.

In a virtual state of war

Seen through the prism of Beijing’s

history of subjugation and humiliation by the West, the EDCA bases are just another set of exclamation points for our belligerent status as acolytes of America. Along with this was our lamented initiative in bringing our case to the arbitral tribunal questioning China’s illegal expansive “nine-dash line” encompassing Philippine territories in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea). China rejected the ruling, proceeded to occupy these territories, building “in-your-face” artificial islands and battlements. Even our traditional fishing grounds were encroached upon. And this happened during the Deegong’s bromance with Xi Jinping. We are indeed a castrated nation!

We are now drawn deep into a state of belligerency with our compact with America. The arc of US alliances of Okinawa, Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines, the first island chain serves as maritime boundaries stretching from the East and South China Seas, West Philippine and Sulu Seas, choking China from access to the Pacific.

Whether we like it or not, we have become America’s frontline. America’s enemy has become ours. The EDCA bases will be primary targets, magnets for destruction when a shooting war begins as these are actually the US military’s forward staging areas where US pre-positions their war materiel, fuel depots and ammunition dumps for the use of their planes and ships. Conveniently, these bases are facing the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), and in the north facing Taiwan.

China as an emerging hegemon

To put it in proper perspective, a reflection on how China became our enemy is mandatory. From our hazy past, archaeological evidence and history, we have always traded and intermingled with China for millennia. And in the years prior to WW2, China kept to herself. Only in post-war years after China’s civil war and America’s assumption to its self-appointed role as the world’s primus inter pares, did an unprecedented era of peace or at least a state of non-war exist. And this allowed China to reappear in the world stage after an absence of more than 200 years. It may be recalled that ancient China, the Middle Kingdom, was dominant in Asia for thousands of years before it was eclipsed by the West that began during the Age of Discovery in the early 16th century.

But with a population of a billion, China’s rise to hegemony was a matter of historicity — as in the ascendancy of America, England, Germany, Egypt, Persia, etc. History has witnessed the ebb and flow of empires. America may have to recognize that its day in the sun is waning, its epoch of hegemony is over; and it may be China’s turn.


Now we have Cassandras predicting the coming war with Taiwan, China’s renegade province, within the next 3 to 5 years. And the pronouncements of America to defend Taiwan with American boots on the ground may precipitate a bigger conflict. And here, with our EDCA bases, treaties and compact with America, we are drawn to shed our blood too. But what is our real stake in this coming war?

The same question could be asked of America. What is its vital interest at play in the coming conflict that will shed American blood except the belief and the assurances that Taiwan’s safety remains in the hands of America as provided for by “the US Congress ‘Formosa Resolution’ giving President Eisenhower then the total authority to defend Taiwan and the offshore islands.”

I wrote once that “…perhaps America needs to understand too that China now is compelled to write its own narrative. For about 3,000 years it was dominant in Asia except for the 200 years that the West imperialized and exploited her. She may simply want to reclaim her status quo ante.”





The Manila Times