By Perry Diaz
Barely a few days after being sworn in as Secretary of State, Antony Blinken spoke with counterparts in Asia, the Pacific, and Europe. The calls included discussions of defense and security in the Indo-Pacific region. The US has pledged to support her allies in maritime disputes in the South China Sea and East China Sea.
Indeed, the US is eager to renew her alliances with old allies like Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, and Australia with whom the US has treaty obligations to defend against aggression. The other treaty allies of the US are South Korea and Israel. In a nutshell, if one of America’s treaty allies is attacked, the US will come to her aid.
President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga talked about the defense of the Senkaku Islands while Blinken pledged to support the Philippines in the event of armed attack in the South China Sea (SCS) of which about 80% of the waters is claimed by China. The area claimed is delineated by the so-called Nine-Dash-Line, which includes most of the Spratly archipelago that the Philippines claimed as her territory.
Blinken “reaffirmed that a strong US-Philippine alliance is vital to a free and open Indo-Pacific region” in a call to Philippine foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin. One might ask: Why didn’t Biden call Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte directly? Well, the relationship between the US and the Philippines is shaky right now considering that Duterte had openly endorsed ex-president Donald Trump during the November 3rd election, the only national leader who did. However, with Duterte administration coming to an end in 2022,there might be opportunities to re-engage in dialogues on how to reinvigorate the teetering alliance.
Defense of Taiwan
Blinken’s remarks to Southeast Asian allies indicate the hardline stance will continue for the new administration. And to stress the seriousness of Biden’s commitment, the Pentagon deployed the aircraft carrier battle group led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt to the South China Sea to conduct routine operations “to ensure freedom of the seas, build partnerships that foster maritime security.” It was also at a time when tensions between China and Taiwan have raised the temperature in the Taiwan Strait.
It’s important to note that China vowed to attack Taiwan in 2020. Well, that was last year and nothing happened. But the conventional wisdom is that China would invade Taiwan at some point in time. She is just waiting for the opportune time to do so. In the event of an attack, the US is obligated by US law to defend Taiwan, which means war will break out!
U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement the battle group entered the SCS on January 23rd, the same day Taiwan reported a large incursion of Chinese bombers and fighter jets into its air defense identification zone in the vicinity of the Pratas Islands.
The day before, January 22nd, China authorized her coast guard to fire on foreign vessels and to demolish other countries’ structures built on reefs and islands claimed by China, which by inference includes the Pag-asa Island that is occupied by civilian Filipinos and a marine contingent. If China proceeds with the destruction of Pag-asa, that would be considered an invasion since Pag-asa is a municipal town of the province of Palawan. The Philippines could then invoke the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).
Defense of the Philippines
The question is, why is the West Philippine Sea important to the US that she would defend the Philippines against Chinese aggression?
If China restricts American passage in the SCS, it could cause innumerable damage to U.S.’s trade and economy. In 2011, $5.3 trillion in trade passed through the SCS, $1.2 trillion of which was tied to the U.S. About 90% of East Asian energy imports pass through the SCS. In 2014, the U.S. exported $79 billion in goods to countries around the SCS, and imported $127 billion from them that same year. It is therefore in the U.S.’s best interest that the SCS should remain open to maritime navigation.
But the importance of controlling the SCS is that it connects to the Indian Ocean through the Strait of Malacca. In other words, the country that controls the Strait of Malacca controls the SCS and therefore controls trade that passes through the Strait of Malacca.
The US has a strong presence in the Indian Ocean where she has a large naval and air base in the tiny island of Diego Garcia strategically located in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It is owned by the British Indian Ocean Territory. In 1971, the UK leased Diego Garcia to the US, which then built a massive air and naval base. It controls the Indian Ocean in the same way that Guam – a US territory where another air and naval base is strategically located — controls the Pacific. It is amazing how two small islands located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean have significant roles in the defense of Pax Americana or world peace.
On the shoulders of Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, a retired four-star general, rest the responsibility of keeping America’s strength in top shape, ready to respond to threats from America’s enemies who constantly attempt to pierce America’s defenses. For as long as America remains strong under a strong president, America will remain the free world’s leader.
The US has just survived an insurrection from within. It was incited by then President Trump who encouraged his supporters to attack the Capitol on January 6th. The rioters stopped a joint session of Congress, which was convened to count the Electoral College votes. The National Guard arrived and cleared the Capitol of the rioters. Six people died during the rioting. Vice President Mike Pence reconvened the joint session and continued the tabulation of the Electoral College votes. To Trump’s consternation, Pence declared Biden the winner of the presidential election!
But as Biden was about to take office on January 20th, Trump threatened to declare martial law, arrest Biden, and impose his power upon the American people. However, the military didn’t support him and in the end he backed off and flew to Mar-a-Lago in exile, a broken man.
But Trump will remain a thorn on Biden’s back. With a nation divided, Biden has to grapple with right-wing politics, as Trump will wage guerilla warfare against the Biden administration. On January 30th Trump called the disgraced congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, a QAnon conspiracy theorist, to tell her that he’s supporting her amid calls for her expulsion from Congress. Greene said that she’ll “never apologize” as she faces backlash over recent controversial comments. Trump’s call to Greene sends the opening salvo in Trump’s war against the Biden administration. Trump is back in the game! Such is the price of leadership.
It is my fervent hope that President Biden’s presidency will usher America to new heights and greater glory. I pray that God gives President Biden the wisdom to lead and protect the American people. Hail to the Chief! May God bless the United States of America.
For comment email PerryDiaz@gmail.com