Yesterday, China’s nationalist newspaper Global Times published a report arguing that Beijing should make the Philippines pay for increased cooperation with the United States, what Chinese officials perceive as a balancing act unfolding in the region. According to the Global Times:
Given the recent active maneuvers of the US military in China's neighboring area, the lack of a response from China would be inappropriate, though it is also impossible to react strongly toward every move by the US. It is thus necessary to single out a few cases and apply due punishment.
The Philippines is a suitable target to impose such a punishment. A reasonable yet powerful enough sanction can be considered. It should show China's neighboring area that balancing China by siding with the US is not a good choice.
The report adds that Beijing should use economic coercion to compel the Philippines into suspending its ongoing activities with the United States: “China may consider cooling down its business ties with the Philippines. One step forward in military collaboration with the US means a step backward in economic cooperation with China. In the long run, China may also use its economic leverage to cut economic activities between ASEAN countries and the Philippines.”
The call from the Chinese national newspaper comes on the heels of increased military cooperation between the United States and the Philippines. In November 2011, the United States agreed to transfer a second Hamilton-class cutter to the Philippines to provide additional resources for the Philippine Navy to conduct maritime security activities, including in the South China Sea where China and the Philippines have ongoing territorial disputes. Earlier this month, the United States announced that its annual exercise with the Philippine marines will be conducted off of Palawan island instead of the main island Luzon. (Increased Chinese oil and natural gas exploration 50 miles off the island of Palawan has exacerbated tensions between the Philippines and China in recent months.) Most recently, the United States and the Philippines agreed last week to closer military cooperation moving forward. According to The Washington Post on Sunday, “The Philippines said it is considering more joint military exercises and a greater presence by American troops.”
To those familiar with the South China Sea contest, it probably comes as no surprise that China would wield its economic clout over its neighbors in order to achieve its objectives in the region. Nevertheless, with the Communist Party’s Global Times making explicit pronouncements that Beijing should use economic leverage over the Philippines and others seeking closer ties with the United States (Vietnam, for example), this is an issue that U.S. policymakers will need to watch closely. China’s economic linkages in the region are huge and it will be difficult for the United States to assuage the pain from China cooling down its business ties with its neighbors. But there may be avenues for the United States to pursue that would help its neighbors manage the pain from China as they pursue greater cooperation with the United States. The Trans-Pacific Partnership – a regional free trade agreement that would include Vietnam and Singapore, and potentially the Philippines – is one example. There are others.
U.S. policymakers need to continue to dispel Chinese concerns that U.S. security cooperation with its neighbors is part of some grand containment strategy. It isn’t. The United States seeks cooperative engagement with China, as well as deeper ties with its neighbors. At the same time, the United States will need to look beyond security cooperation and strengthen its economic ties with states in order to counter China’s economic leverage, which could stall partnership building between the United States and others in the region. Indeed, as the United States moves ahead with forging these strategic partnerships, military cooperation is only part of the foundation. Lasting partnerships by necessity need to include everything from security cooperation to robust trade and development assistance.
This Week’s Events
On Tuesday at 2 PM, head to the Atlantic Council for Nigeria on the Edge.
On Thursday at 9 AM, head to the George C. Marshall Institute for a conversation on Effective Energy Policy: Learning Lessons from 40 Years of Trying. At 2 PM, Brookings will host a discussion on Low-Carbon Development in the United States and China.
Finally, on Friday at 10 AM, the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation will explore the idea of Applying the DARPA Concepts to Energy Innovation: The Emerging ARPA-E Model.