Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 1, No. 3, July 2013.
By Anders S. Corr, Ph.D., and Priscilla A. Tacujan, Ph.D.
Figure 1: China and Philippines: Military Expenditure and Energy Use, 1989-2011. Shortly after most US forces left the Philippines in 1991-2, Chinese military expenditure and activity in the South China Sea increased dramatically. Data source: Correlates of War Project.
The Philippine government is constitutionally required to craft an independent foreign policy, but it must accelerate cooperation with foreign powers to do so effectively. China’s growing militarization and energy consumption are fast out-pacing the meager military spending and energy consumption of the Philippines (See Figure 1). This makes China, more so than the Philippines, willing to risk military conflict over disputed energy resources, fishing areas, and transportation routes in the South China Sea.
Since the People Power Revolution of 1986, the Philippines has had a comparatively weak, and sometimes fractious, alliance with the United States, Japan and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean). China, on the other hand, has increased its political influence in the Philippines over the last twenty-five years, through both economic means, and threatening military behavior. China would prefer prolonged bilateral negotiations with the Philippines, as with other small countries, while gradually encroaching on maritime territory. The minor concessions or royalty payments offered by China are in no way commensurate with the energy resources of the South China Sea (also known as the West Philippine Sea). The cheapest approach for China, though one costly in terms of reputation, has been to compromise individual Philippine politicians in exchange for turning a blind eye to encroachments. The belief of China is that such encroachments may cause minor discomfort in Chinese foreign affairs in the short-run, but will eventually be accepted and legitimized as fait accompli. Control over lucrative shipping, fishing, and energy fields will result.
The Philippines could extract far greater ownership rights and royalty payments on the international market by keeping Chinese corruption and military threats at bay. The latter strategy requires political fortitude and strengthened alliance cooperation with the United States, Japan, and Asean. The Philippines can become a leading partner in a developing Asian alliance system geared to contain China and safeguard an UNCLOS determination on the East and South China Seas, but to do this requires safeguards against Chinese influence in Philippine politics. Continue reading