March 19, 2014

Playing Chinese checkers

IT MIGHT be Chinese checkers but, let’s face it, we are not a player. A danger, I think, is that President Aquino -- or any of the policy advisers he may listen to -- imagines that the Philippines is actually facing China in the game being played in what China calls the South China Sea (but what we call the West Philippine Sea). If the video game-playing Aquino sees himself as the brave gunslinger riding into town to bring down a gang of outlaws, he might make critical misjudgments that could be detrimental to this country’s long-term interests. The reality is, the actual players in this geopolitical game are China and the US, and the Philippines is only a piece on the checkerboard.

That realization brings certain insights. One is that the players’ moves are governed by their respective endgames, not ours. Another is that, as a mere piece, our eventual fate is incidental to the real players and we can well be sacrificed to further a particular player’s strategic goals. 

Accordingly, our country’s decision makers ought to understand that our interests get advanced only if -- and only for as long as -- these are aligned with at least one player’s own interests. While our decision makers seem cognizant of this and, as a result, appear to be trying to align the interests of the US with ours and bank on our so-called "mutual defense treaty" to gain some leverage for our territorial and maritime claims in the disputed area, it is not altogether clear, to me at least, if they are operating with a realistic understanding of American strategic interests. If they were, they should realize that American economic interests are not served by a shooting conflict with China -- its biggest creditor and its biggest supplier of its consumer goods -- and that the US responding to our invocation of the said mutual defense pact is therefore an option that is completely off the board. 
Please visit Business World Online to read the full article.