Scarborough Shoal —The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) has passed a final judgment on the case that the Philippines unilaterally brought before the PCA concerning, among other issues, the legality of China’s “nine-dash line” claim over the South China Sea under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Both the Philippines and China are signatories to UNCLOS; however, China challenged the arbitration process and declared that she will not abide by the PCA’s ruling, which makes one wonder: If China ignores the PCA’s ruling, what are the Philippines’ options and what would the U.S. do to protect her national interests?
A few days prior to the UN ruling, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte told media that he was not keen about confronting China and had expressed doubts that the U.S. is committed to side with the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal territorial disputes.
During the U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg’s courtesy visit on June 13, Duterte asked him bluntly, “Are you with us or are you not with us?” Goldberg’s response was: “Only if you are attacked.” Clearly, what Goldberg said was true because the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) says so. In other words, if Duterte decides to reclaim the Scarborough Shoal and meets Chinese resistance, Duterte would be on his own. And what weaponry does the Philippines have to fight China? Two coast guard ships and two fighter jets? Forget it.
So, whatever the outcome of the arbitration case is, Duterte is not going to war against China, which makes sense. But the Scarborough Shoal has geostrategic values to both China and the U.S.
In my column, “Tensions heat up in the SCS” (May 13, 2016), I wrote: “It is obvious that China wants to end America’s dominance in the SCS; thus, taking full control of the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, economically, militarily, and politically. It will be the end of Pax Americana and the advent of Pax Sinica. And this begs the question: What would the U.S. do in the event that China went ahead with the reclamation of Scarborough Shoal?” Or, what would Obama’s successor — Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton — do? That is the $64,000 question.
Indeed, a new U.S. administration under Clinton or Trump would be faced with multifaceted scenarios. And the worst-case scenario would be: What if Russia attacked the Baltic States, China attacked the Senkakus and reclaimed the Scarborough Shoal, and North Korea attacked South Korea?
But going to war is like a game of poker. If the other players sense that you have a weak hand, they’d bluff you. If they think that you have a strong hand, they’d fold theirs. Obama isn’t a good player in the game of geopolitics. He has yet to beat Putin. And Chinese President Xi Jinping proved to be a good bluffer and Obama lost several islands to Xi in the Spratly archipelago. And Kim Jong-un is an all-time bluffer. He has been playing a hand with nothing but a lowball in a high stakes game.
At the end of the day, with all these trouble spots around the world, can America engage Russia, China, and North Korea all at once? The answer is yes because America is still the sole superpower in the world today. Putin admitted that recently in a televised interview with Fareed Zakaria of CNN. Indeed, with 11 aircraft carrier battle groups, America can project power anywhere in the world. But the question is: Is America prepared for war? (PerryDiaz@gmail.com)