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March 15, 2024 Special Dispatch No. 11205

Renowned Filipino Expert Masigan: 'We Are Cooperating With Like-Minded Democracies To Deter China's Hegemonic Ambitions In The Indo-Pacific'; 'We Must Not Take [China's] Frequent Water Cannon Attacks Like A Sitting Duck... Real Escalation Is To Show Weakness'

March 15, 2024
China | Special Dispatch No. 11205

On March 13, 2024, renowned Filipino journalist Andrew J. Masigan published an article, titled "De-Risk From China, Lean In On Japan," in the Philippine Star, which is among the Philippines' most widely circulated daily newspapers.

In the article, Masigan stated that China's hostility towards the Philippines stems from the "Philippines' correct pivot to the axis of democracy." He then added: "We are now cooperating with like-minded democracies to deter China's hegemonic ambitions in the Indo-Pacific."

Commenting on the frequent China's water cannon attacks against Filipino vessels, Masigan stressed: "We must not take the frequent water cannon attacks like a sitting duck. I think National Security Secretary Eduardo Año was wrong not to react. He should have fired back with water cannons since matching one type of aggression with the same cannot be considered escalation. Because, as I have said before, real escalation is to show weakness. Weakness is akin to an open invitation for China to act with impunity. A calculated retaliatory action works as strategic deterrence."

Masigan suggested the Philippines must "de-risk" from China and "lean in" to partner countries with whom the country shares the same values, such as Japan.

It is worth noting that the Philippine Ambassador to the United States, Jose Manuel "Babe" del Gallego Romualdez, stated: "With all the dangerous maneuvers that are happening, one major accident could trigger the U.S. or the Philippines to invoke the [1951] Mutual Defense Treaty,[1] which is why we just have to hope that every morning when President Xi wakes up, he will say, 'today is not the day.'"[2]


China Coast Guard ships (left and right) deploy water cannons at the Philippine military-chartered civilian boat Unaizah May 4 (center) during its supply mission near Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed South China Sea in this frame grab from aerial video footage taken on March 5, 2024. (Source: Philippine Coast Guard)


Philippine vessels were water cannoned by China near Bajo de Masinloc off Zambales province last December 9, 2024, and again, vessels in a resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal on December 10, 2024. (Source: Philippine Coast Guard)


On August 5, 2024, the Philippine Military resupply mission was hit with a water canon from a Chinese Coast Guard cutter. (Source: Philippine Coast Guard)

Below is Masigan's article in the media outlet Philippine Star:[3]

"We Are All Aware Of China's Bullying Tactics Towards Our Coast Guards And Fishermen"

"The Philippines' relationship with China is complicated. While China is our greatest security threat and the Philippines is a foil to China's hegemonic ambitions, many ties still bind both countries.

"Among them are economic ties. China is the Philippine's foremost trading partner with some $67 billion worth of trade flowing between us. And then there is the Official Development Assistance (ODA). Numerous Chinese-funded infrastructure projects are still in the pipeline despite the Philippines pulling out of three big projects (the PNR railway, the Subic-Clark railway and the Mindanao Railway). Culturally, there is a long history of people-to-people exchanges, what with 1.2 million Filipinos having at least one Chinese parent and a third of all Filipinos have some degree of Chinese ancestry.

"Whether we like it or not, our relationship with China traverses a wide spectrum of sectors. The challenge to government is to balance our foreign policy in a way that one aspect of our relationship does not prejudice the other. The Marcos administration has been trying hard to achieve this balance.

"But it has not been easy, given China's escalating hostility towards the Philippines. We are all aware of China's bullying tactics towards our coast guards and fishermen. The last incident was serious – I am referring to last week's run-in when China's ships rammed a Philippine re-supply vessel and fired water cannons at it.

"Too, we are all aware of the condescending insults hurled by the Chinese government towards President Marcos and, by extension, the Filipino people (recall when they told BBM to 'read more').[4]

"Similarly, China has imposed stricter rules on Philippine exports and other commercial transactions.

"China's hostility towards the Philippines stems from the Philippines' correct pivot to the axis of democracy. We are now cooperating with like-minded democracies to deter China's hegemonic ambitions in the Indo-Pacific.

"Regardless of the hostile treatment from China, the Philippines must persist in keeping bilateral relations on an even keel so as not to aggravate the already deteriorated situation. At this point, keeping the status quo best serves our interest.

"I must say, however, that we must not take the frequent water cannon attacks like a sitting duck. I think National Security Secretary Eduardo Año was wrong not to react. He should have fired back with water cannons since matching one type of aggression with the same cannot be considered escalation. Because, as I have said before, real escalation is to show weakness. Weakness is akin to an open invitation for China to act with impunity. A calculated retaliatory action works as strategic deterrence.

"Secretary Año must consider the demoralizing effect of passivity/victimhood to the Filipino psyche.

"That said, we should be smart. Like other forward-looking democracies, we must de-risk from China and lean in, in even more profound ways, to partner countries with whom we share the same values."

"Unlike China, Japan Does Not Lead Recipient Countries Into A Debt Trap"

"The Philippines and Japan are of like minds. Both nations value peace and the rules-based framework of international discourse. We value democracy, capitalism, human rights and the individual's pursuit of prosperity and happiness. Moreover, we are both committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific where no single nation has dominion over others.

"Japan has been a dependable partner to the Philippines in both economic matters and recently, in defense. It will be of strategic value for the Philippines to lean in on Japan not only because it is the fourth largest economy, but more so because Japan is the leading country in Asia that fills the defense gaps left by the US in the Indo-Pacific.

"In terms of economics, Japan committed $1.08 trillion in Official Development Assistance (ODA) to the Philippines from 2019-2023, significantly more than China. What's more, ODAs from Japan conform to strict feasibility hurdles, are bereft of corruption and carry the most favorable interest rates. Unlike China, Japan does not lead recipient countries into a debt trap.

"Japan is the Philippines' second largest trading partner and our largest source of foreign investments. Per the national statistics office, Japan pumped $44.176 billion into the economy from 2018 to 2022.

"In defense, the Japanese has accelerated its defense cooperation with the Philippines. In November 2023, a new defense cooperation framework was signed between both countries called the Official Security Assistance (OSA). Its objective is to deepen defense and security cooperation towards maintaining regional peace. This will be done by enhancing security and deterrence capabilities through the provision of hardware, defense infrastructure and capacity building.

"As far as defense and technology transfers are concerned, Japan is supplying the Philippines with four air surveillance radars – three fixed and one mobile. This is in addition to 12 vessels provided to the Philippine Coast Guard, among others.

"In capacity building, Japan is helping the Philippines in ship maintenance, aerial medicine and disaster recovery.

"But there is one vital component lacking in the defense cooperation framework between Japan and the Philippines. This is the Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA). The RAA allows both countries to move their military force whenever required. It provides an easy pathway for the movement of goods from one country to the other – a vital necessity in a time of war. In short, it facilitates cooperative activities between our defense forces. This is something the Philippines needs.

"The RAA requires Senate approval and we trust that the Upper House will do the right thing by ratifying it.

"The OSA is just one mechanism of Philippines-Japan defense cooperation. More dialogues are afoot for deeper collaboration. These include the Trilateral Japan-Philippines-US meetings; the Foreign and Defense Ministerial Meeting; the Vice Ministerial Strategic Dialogue; the Political-Military Dialogue and the Military-to-Military Dialogue.

"The Philippines will do well to hedge its exposure to China and cooperate more closely with Japan."

 

[1] "Signed by Manila and Washington in 1951, the MDT is a defense pact that unites the two allies to help defend each other from aggression. Under Article IV of the treaty, it is stated that the Philippines and the US recognize that an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of them would be dangerous to their respective peace and safety. The two countries also declared that they would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with their constitutional processes. Under Article V, it is determined that the treaty covers an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific Ocean, or on their armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific." Gmanetwork.com/news/topstories/nation/899866/explainer-the-ph-us-mutual-defense-treaty/story/, March 8, 2024.

[2] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 11191, Philippine Ambassador To The U.S. Romualdez: 'The Aggression We Face Today Is Very Real Because China Will Not Let Up On Its Over-Expansive Claims In Our Territorial Waters', March 11, 2024; Philstar.com/opinion/2024/03/03/2337635/australia-important-and-critical-ally, March 3, 2024.

[3] Philstar.com/opinion/2024/03/13/2340095/de-risk-china-lean-japan, March 13, 2024.

[4] In January 2024, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson suggested that the Philippines' President Ferdinand Marcos Jr should read more to develop a proper understanding of the ins and outs of the Taiwan question. Globaltimes.cn/page/202401/1305503.shtml, January 16, 2024; Youtube.com/watch?v=wnAiOKauZVc, January 17, 2024.

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