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The Truth Behind the West Philippine Sea Dispute and China-Philippines-US Relations

Updated on May 29, 2018
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Tina, known here as "the singer nurse" is law student and rule of law advocate hailing from the Philippines.

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Is the Philippines really in a helpless stance in relation to China?

There is more to the Philippines’ involvement in the West Philippine dispute than the interplay of longstanding claims for territorial entitlements among neighboring Asia Pacific states and rights over marine resources in the area, of which Filipinos (perhaps including some of their leaders) are not fully aware of.

A meaningful analysis of the situation would impel one to consider the following premises:

In US’ eyes, the Philippines has by far the most strategic location in the Asia Pacific region. “Uncle Sam” constantly looks for ways in order to gain and combine economic and maritime advantages in the region where it could build its navy and consequently enhance its regional presence and prowess. The area surrounding the West Philippine Sea, where the Philippines is considered to be the most “approachable” state, is as much suitable for blockade as it is for trade and economic current. No wonder, for years, the US continues its ties with the Philippines and constantly helps in the latter’s affairs. Of course, if it could keep close ties with its foes, with more reason it would with its goal.

On the other hand, China’s interest over the Philippines and the West Philippine Sea is a mix of aspiration and self-preservation. The West Philippine Sea, an area known worldwide as the South and East China seas, is surrounded and comprised of islands running from Japan through Indonesia. This area has been regarded as a valuable route for trade and commerce. However, China’s interest doesn’t end here. Notably, the spacing of these islands poses risks upon China’s maritime defense as this area tends to be a constrictive passage vulnerable to sea and air block off. When the going gets tough in this area, China can be easily sealed off without lifting even a single finger.

Finally, we may also observe that the US is bothered by the fact that China is a continuously emerging state power in the Asia Pacific region. But then, we cannot discount the reality that, due to its superior capability to impose restrictions and/or blockade upon unfavorable states, US causes China so much insecurity.

These are the muted, if not underrated, dynamics that actually makes the Philippines a powerful bargaining entity, and which our fellow Filipinos must ponder on. We are in the position that could either make or break the aforementioned regional “super powers”. Our country holds the fulcrum, which can influence not only the status quo in the Pacific region, but the international state of affairs as a whole.

The Philippines’ geographic and strategic location, as well as its stance in international law vis-a-vis the US and China makes it a key player in its own right in the Asia Pacific region. Currently, the Philippines may not just be China’s viable option. It could be China’s only hope.

So who’s helpless now?

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