Saturday, June 09, 2012

Money Can't Buy You Love

A good article on another potential global flashpoint appeared in last Friday’s WSJ. It focused on disputed areas in the South China Sea that are being claimed by China and the Philippines. It also provides good insight into the limitations of China’s efforts to gain influence through money as in this case it’s turned out that Cash Fails to Win China Friends in Philippines :

Under a 60-year-old mutual-defense treaty, the U.S. is obliged to come to Manila's aid in the event of an armed attack, an event experts call unlikely but not impossible should relations with China grow dramatically worse.
The Philippines, once a colony of the U.S., long remained one of its crucial allies in Asia, but the Philippine senate closed America's sprawling Philippine bases at Subic Bay and Clark Field in 1991. Now, an apparent effort by China to win Philippine favor through money has opened the door for America again, showing how China's missteps are potentially America's gains in the region.

Mr. Aquino's government has several times asked for more support from the U.S. In April, American soldiers took part in joint training exercises with Philippine troops, designed to teach them how to withstand a beach assault from a foreign power.
The U.S. is stepping up military ties with other countries in the region as well. A U.S. Navy vessel called at a former American naval base at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam last August for the first time in three decades—for maintenance and noncombat exercises—and on Sunday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited the base. In April, nearly 200 Marines arrived in Darwin, Australia, as the U.S. builds up a presence there to help ensure free navigation through the South China Sea.

China has faced backlashes against its expanding commercial and military power before. In Zambia, President Michael Sata successfully ran for office last year challenging China's dominance of the African country's copper industry. Former South African President Thabo Mbeki has warned of the danger of China creating a colonial relationship in Africa. Myanmar suspended a $3.6 billion Chinese-funded hydropower project last September amid fears it could ruin the agricultural heartland.

The stakes are especially high in the Philippines because of the South China Sea. Its contested waters, which are claimed in whole or in part by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei, contain between 28 billion and 213 billion barrels in proven and undiscovered oil resources, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It is unclear how much is accessible, but some think the reserves potentially could be larger than those of any other country besides Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

In the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the emergence of democracies (however unstable and imperfect) that replaced autocratic regimes (sometimes supported by the US), there was a temptation in Asia to turn away from the United States. The Philippines booted the US military out and there was a rise in anti-American sentiment in many countries. However, now that China is flexing its muscles more and more (both monetary and military) and becoming more aggressive in seeking influence these countries are reconsidering their views. The United States may not always be a perfect partner, but the prospect of an expansionist China makes the US seem like a much better choice when looking for allies with a common cause.