The Issue of Chinese invasion of Scarborough Shoal is a complex matter. For Filipinos it is about protecting sovereign territory, and its ability or lack thereof to do so from a position of strength. In the larger scale of geopolitics it is about controlling the sea lanes of the West Philippine Sea— or as the Chinese put it— The South China Sea, oh, and they want that much coveted title of “Superpower.”
For Filipinos, there has been no doubt that Scarborough is Philippine territory. Though this claim is not included in the Treaties of Paris, Washington nor the 1935 Philippine Constitution. Yet years of neglecting its Armed Forces, there really isn’t much to do anything about this Chinese invasion. So the Philippines has sought refuge in fighting for it diplomatically. The Philippines argues that under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) backs up its claim. Scarborough Shoal no matter where you look at it on the map is far closer to the Philippines than to China.
The situation is made more complicated by this fact. The United States, who is the Philippines closest ally has not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Also by the sheer fact that the Philippines is closely allied with the United States adds another dimension to the situation.
In recent weeks, China has been in a diplomatic row with the United States on two fronts. First the blind Chinese dissident, and via the Philippines, acting as a sort of proxy for the United States. There is really nothing that could simplify the matter over the diplomatic row. It is a complex, geopolitical web. This is the Chinese attempting to say, “We’re bad assess, and we’re big boys now so we can control the South China Sea”.
Presently, the International waters of the West Philippine Sea is protected by the United States 7Th Fleet. It has done so since the end of the Second World War. American military doctrine has shifted, and recognized that the next hot spot, and the next battle ground will be sea supremacy in this part of the world.
The USS Virginia, a United States attack submarine, and one of its most modern submarine surfaced West of Subic Bay in the Philippines. Subic was once an American Naval base. It is the American’s way of telling the Chinese: “We’re here, don’t do anything stupid.” It is a way for the Americans to say to the Filipinos, “We got your back.”
The truth of the matter is simple. He who fishes at Scarborough Shoal controls it. The Philippines is hardly equipped to go to battle over a small piece of territory, but for many Filipinos it sort of castrates the nation. And asks rightly so— Are we a nation or are we wimps? But are we willing to wage war on a shoal that so many parties say they control, but not really clear?
The Philippine Armed Forces focused its attention on internal matters. Its doctrine is fighting insurgency, and the political drama of the past 30 years further channeled this doctrine, and not to mention corruption. It simply is not equipped to deal with a very real, and very potent external threat. Crazy as it may sound, it could still take the territory lost of the Chinese, perhaps with careful planning, but the real question is, does the nation have balls to do it? Is it in the best interest of the Philippines to act, even if it meant losing? And losing bad?
The Chinese will not backdown from this. Saving face is important to the Chinese even if they are wrong. They would insist on taking Scarborough Shoal. There has to be a decisive victory, and one can not help but say that the solution must be both Military, and Diplomatic.
The Chinese want Scarborough Shoal because it wants control of the sea. It wants to show the world— and the United States that it is the big bad ass of the region and that Asia is their territory to own. It goes with the singular mindset that China is on its way to being a superpower. This Imperial ambition is frightening.
The external defense of the Philippines is weak. That has never been in doubt. The solution is first for the Philippine Military to refocus its doctrine, and rebuild. The second is for Congress to support the Armed Forces in such rebuilding. It would without a doubt take years to accomplish. The Aquino Administration’s push for a diplomatic solution is for the most part the correct action. But it doesn’t mean the Armed Forces shouldn’t refocus. The world is fast changing yet again, and only a nation so prepared to weather the storms of tomorrow will survive it.