Monday, June 2, 2014

There is only one superpower in Asia — China has decided to be the policeman

 (The Philippine Star) | 


There have been speculations that it is only a matter of time before the People’s Republic of China will proclaim its own version of the Monroe Doctrine in Asia and replace the United States as the dominant power and policeman of East Asia.

It would be important for us to understand the Monroe Doctrine being frequently alluded to, and the reason for comparing it to China’s actions in the East and South China Seas.
In 1823, US President James Monroe gave a State of the Nation address which included his basic foreign policy. Basically, he said that the United States would not get involved in European affairs but if a European nation interfered with any country in the Western Hemisphere, the USA would view this as a hostile act. Succeeding presidents and foreign policy leaders started adding to this doctrine.
In 1904 President Theodore Roosevelt asserted the right of the United States to intervene in Latin America in cases of “chronic wrongdoing by a Latin American nation.” The Roosevelt Corollary asserted the supremacy of the US in the Western Hemisphere. In fact, it proclaimed the Americans as the policemen of the hemisphere. This was the excuse for sending US Marines to Santo Domingo in 1904, Nicaragua in 1911, and Haiti in 1915. Even in the last century, American troops were sent to Grenada and Panama.
The Monroe Doctrine was also tied to what Americans called Manifest Destiny. This justified its western expansion, acquiring territory by force from Mexico and Native Americans. Texas was, at one time, part of Mexico. It was also the justification for colonizing the Philippines.
In 1939, the Clark Memorandum was released stating that the United States did not even need to invoke the Monroe Doctrine as a defense of its intervention in Latin America. It argued that the United States had self evident right of self-defense, and that this was all that was needed to justify interventions, covert and overt, anywhere in Latin America.
During the Cold War, the doctrine was applied by Kennedy when the US blockaded Cuba, and by Reagan when it tried to overthrow the government in Nicaragua. In fact, CIA Director Robert Gates defended their operations arguing that avoiding intervention in Nicaragua would be “to totally abandon the Monroe Doctrine.”
Will China follow the example of the United States? In 1950, hundreds of thousands of Chinese crossed into the Korean Peninsula to “save” North Korea from UN and South Korean forces. Because of this intervention, Korea remains a divided country. Today, the only ally of North Korea is the People’s Republic of China.
In 1979, hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops invaded Vietnam. One of the reasons was that Vietnam had invaded Cambodia, then an ally of China.  Strong resistance from the Vietnamese, who had just defeated the Americans, forced the Chinese troops to withdraw back to China. Perhaps, today would be a different story as Chinese military power has grown tremendously since 1979. If Vietnam continues to defy Chinese incursion in the Paracels, like the oil rig, will China decide that it is now time to “teach the Vietnamese a lesson”? Will China invade Vietnam and invoke its right of self defense similar to the Monroe Doctrine?
Another story is the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This is the most comprehensive attempt to creating a unified regime of nations with respect to the world’s oceans. The treaty addresses a number of topics including navigational rights, economic rights, pollution of the seas, conservation of marine life, scientific exploration, piracy and more.
The United States refused to sign the treaty. It can only be surmised that superpowers prefer to be free to decide their own specific actions without having to adhere to international conventions or agreements. China and the Philippines signed the treaty.
At that time, the treaty was being pushed by the Third World countries. And China was then considered as one of the leaders of the Third World. Today, China refuses international arbitration and is, therefore, rejecting the UNCLOS, of which it is an original signatory. Is this because China does not consider itself a part of the Third World anymore and would prefer to dictate, just like other superpowers, the actions it desires?
China is opposing the American pivot to Asia, and insists that Asian should resolve their own issues and conflicts. But there is only one Asian superpower. And in the past – in Korea and Vietnam- China decided to be the policeman.
There are very limited options for smaller countries facing potential conflicts with a superpower. One is to seek alliances with similar countries. There is after all safety in numbers.
The other one is to ensure a Balance of Power. Asian countries will welcome the American pivot to Asia because it will bring about a balance. This is the thesis of that old Confucian philosophy called theYin-Yang. It says there will always be opposing forces. But to prevent anarchy and preserve order, there must be harmony. And what brings harmony? It is the balance between two opposing forces – night and day, man and woman, hot and cold.
We need peace and harmony in East Asia. And this can only be done by ensuring a balance of power.

China has claimed most of the South China Sea

On May 1, 2014, China moved its biggest China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) oil rig HD-981 into position in what Vietnam claims as its exclusive economic zone off the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands. China deployed some 80 ships to guard the rig, leading to several tense encounters between Chinese and Vietnamese ships.  Several Vietnamese maritime law enforcement officers were injured when China used water cannons on the smaller Vietnamese ships to chase them away.

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