China has big ambitions. It wants to overtake the United States as the world’s superpower by 2049, a hundred years after the Communist Party took power in Beijing. And this will be at the expense of the U.S., which unwittingly helped its strongest rival now closer to attaining its dream.
This is the gist of a 2015 book, “The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as Global Superpower,” by Michael Pillsbury, an American China watcher who had served several U.S. administrations since the time of Richard Nixon in the 1970s.
Washington was so focused on its archrival Moscow during the Cold War that it even helped strengthen Beijing to counter the former Soviet Union, which had some issues with China, including minor border disputes.
For over 40 years, China took advantage of this strange arrangement in its hidden desire to avenge the humiliation it had suffered from Western powers from the middle of the 19th century, when colonial powers Great Britain, Germany, France, and even Japan and the U.S. – at the turn of the 20th century – carved out territories of the weakened Qing dynasty,
In his book, Pillsbury warned that China used deception to mask its hidden intention to supplant the United States’ global supremacy, just like how Washington replaced London as the world’s global power in the 20th century.
China is claiming the 21st century as its own, rising not just as the world’s number one economic power but as a dominant military as well.
As Russia retreated after the collapse of the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the late Denig Xiaoping built a formidable economic engine from the time of the Tiananmen Square revolt and then powered its military muscle, which it is starting to flex in the Asia-Pacific region.
Soft power, too
Like the United States, China has started putting up overseas military bases and has been expanding influence, through loans and official development assistance to Latin American, African and South Pacific island countries – the same way the West tried to dominate poor and weak countries in the past
The building of 7 man-made islands in the South China Sea and the imposition of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in northeast Asia did not happen by accident. These are deliberate actions to protect China’s national interest.
So, it is not right to blame the Philippines when it filed an arbitration case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague for China’s action in the South China Sea. It was bound to happen as Beijing implements its island-chain of defense. This is why it continued to ignore the international court victory of Manila in July 2016.
It’s also not a surprise that Beijing continued to control Scarborough Shoal, just nearly 150 nautical miles off Zambales, as it expands its anti-access and area denial (A2AD) operations in the South China Sea, pushing away the United States to the Pacific near its base in Guam. It has started patrolling east of the Philippines and has conducted naval drills out in the Pacific, testing the waters in how far it can go with its surveillance and reconnaissance operations.
China could not be faulted for its aggressive actions in South China Sea.
It carries its own paranoia because of the United States’ increasing freedom of navigation operations (Fonops) in the South China Sea and its effort to build a coalition of friendly allies around China, beginning from South Korea and Japan in the northeast, Taiwan and the Philippines and Australia on its eastern side, and Vietnam, Singapore and India to its south. The United States also has military bases in the former Soviet Republics in central Asia as well as in the Middle East, almost encircling China.
Thus, China has to create its own defensive rings with several manmade islands in the Spratly and Paracels. It has made some dangerous moves in the Taiwan Straits and in the Japanese-claimed Senkaku islands, enough for Taiwanese and Japanese to scramble fighters recently.
But, what is more disturbing recently, is the deployment of dozens of militia vessels in the Spratly, near the Philippine-held islands of Thitu, Kota and Panatag, where huge numbers of Chinese boats were seen around the almost defenseless territories.
China’s “swarming tactics” are intimidating enough for the handful of Filipino troops stationed on these isolated features and could effectively choke food, fuel and other supplies coming from the main Philippine island of Palawan. The military has not reported any aggressive actions, or any effort to blockade these islands, but the mere presence of a large number of Chinese ships in the area is already a scary scenario.
Should China carry out an action against the Philippines, it can easily take out and wrest control of these features. Remember, the Philippines has lost an island before to Vietnam when troops guarding Northeast Cay went partying to the nearest island.
Pillsbury, in his book, recommended sets of action for the US administration to compete strategically with China.
For the Philippines, can it do something other than file a diplomatic protest, or should it surrender because, as what President Rodrigo Duterte and his spokesman would readily say, “wala na tayong magagawa” (we can’t do anything)? Should they simply be blaming the previous administration?
The Philippines must stand its ground and protect its national interest. It cannot rely on any outside power to fight its battle or war. There are many diplomatic and international legal mechanisms available.
Standing up for one’s rights does not necessarily mean going to war. Doing nothing is treason, a betrayal of public trust.
A veteran defense reporter who won the Pulitzer in 2018 for Reuters’ reporting on the Philippines’ war on drugs, the author is a former Reuters journalist.