By Li Hongmei, Specially for Sina English
It seems that the month-long standoff in the South China Sea between China and the Philippines has picked up a notch in these days, with the Philippines continuously and further intensifying its provocations. And in response, China has warned that it is prepared to respond to any escalations.
Philippine provocations include, resumptively, Manila's renaming of the Huangyan Island, which is the center of the face-off, bringing the dispute to an international court unilaterally, the continued presence of Filipino ships in the burning area, and making erroneous comments that have distorted the view of both Philippine public and the international community.
When the stunts are close to playing out, Manila produced its “ace in the hole”-to draw the United States into the conflict by highlighting the preamble of the Mutual Defense Treaty that the Philippines and the United States signed in 1951.
As expected, the Philippine will never forget to touch the emotional chord of the world powers by portraying itself as a small, bullied country being threatened by China, and Philippine ships and aircraft would be in all likelihood attacked in the Pacific Ocean.
The Philippines, it seems, get so impatient to drag Washington in the troubled waters. To dispel doubts on United States’ commitment to it under the treaty, Philippine foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario said Wednesday “Both the Philippines and the US desire to publicly declare… their sense of unity and common determination to defend themselves against external armed attack,” despite the fact that the U.S. has stated on many an occasion that it will help build the Philippines' sea patrol capability but will not take sides in its standoff with China in the ongoing disputes.
Perhaps, if the incident escalated into open military conflict, the Philippines would gain some support from its strong ally. But a fatal drawback will undermine its seemingly delicate plan: neither the US nor any of its other allies are its puppets.
Washington’s policy makers would never be that na?ve to feed the Philippine desire at the cost of its own interests. And in particular, when the U.S. is pivoting to the Pacific region, a cooperative gesture from China, rather than confrontation, will be in line with its orientation of strategies.
That said, if Washington feeds the desire, it will grow and go beyond. Namely, if Manila gets the U.S. support, it will, without doubt, take an even tougher approach in the future, upsetting the situation and therefore hindering expansion of the U.S. interests in the region.
Actually, the alliance between the US and the Philippines is typical of an alliance between a big power and a small country, in which the big power fears being kidnapped into a conflict not of its choosing.
As a matter of fact, although the US has helped the Philippines boost its maritime defenses, most recently by providing the Philippine navy with its largest ship, it appears to be trying to remain out of the dispute. This somewhat bears testimony to Washington’s promise of not “taking sides”.
Indeed, the US wants to make use of China's disputes with its neighbors, say, the Philippines, to contain and balance China, but it does not intend to become involved in any direct confrontation with China.
Presumably, by showing down its” iron-clad” ties with the U.S., Manila is not merely decking itself out to deceive its people and intimidate China. But it will get more disillusioned than, say, being bestowed a weaponless old vessel, once truth comes out in the wash.