Continuing Uncertainties

G7 Hiroshima Foreign Ministers’ MeetingG7 Hiroshima Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. Photo credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan

Part I: MILITARY DANGERS AND ECONOMIC RISKS

“War is the worst option. Peace is the common goal of all mankind…” — Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”

Taiwan’s major newspaper, China Post’s headline on 06 April augured bad news for all of mankind because it announced a huge rise in military spending by countries around the world, thus: “Global military spending rose in 2015 to nearly USD1.7 trillion, the first increase in several years, driven by conflicts including the battle against the Islamic State group, the Saudi-led war in Yemen, and fears about Iran.”

The 05 April Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Study noted, “Chinese expansion in the South China Sea, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, support of Ukrainian separatists also accounted for an increase in military spending.”

With USD596 billion in defense spending, the U.S. led the world, with China as second with an estimated USD215 billion, the annual report by SIPRI said. Saudi Arabia came in third with military spending of USD87.2 billion, double what it spent in 2006, which fueled the first worldwide increase in military spending since 2011.

Iraq spent USD13.1 billion on its military in 2015, over 500% from 2006 as it had to rebuild its Armed Forces following the U.S. withdrawal and rise of the Islamic State group in recent years. For weapons manufacturers, the nonstop pace of airstrikes targeting Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria, as well as Saudi-led bombing of Yemen’s Shiite rebels and their allies, means more billions of dollars in sales in the future.

So, how and when will all this expensive, and clearly, unnecessary (as it is for destroying instead of saving lives) military build-up by super powers, middle powers, and non-powers end? The suffering U.S., Chinese, Saudi, or Filipino taxpayers would rather want most or all that money invested to fight poverty, hunger, joblessness, and other forms of deprivation. How? When?

The 4th Nuclear Security Summit

The U.S. has consistently taken the lead in the implementation and broadening of the U.N. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) since the end of WWII. Nuclear deterrence, peaceful co-existence, and a prosperous world have been the aspirations of the world’s peoples, particularly in the undeveloped and developing countries like the Philippines who still have to reduce mass poverty, overcome pandemic diseases, and ensure good healthcare, nutrition and longevity for their citizens.

According to Beth Day Romulo, our distinguished co-columnist in Manila Bulletin, many world leaders have described nuclear terrorism as the “most immediate threat to global security.” The Succeeding nuclear security summits were held in South Korea and the Netherlands that focused on securing nuclear stockpiles and reducing highly enriched uranium.

The 4th Nuclear Security Summit, hosted by President Obama this year, met in Washington last 01-02 April with more than 50 Heads of State invited to attend. The leaders of Russia, North Korea, Iran and Belarus, however, regretted.

On the sidelines of the main summit events, U.S. President Obama met with the leaders of China, South Korea, and Japan – all of whom shared America’s concerns about North Korea’s nuclear program. They all committed to fully support the U.N.’s nuclear NPT, President Xi Jinping of China included.

President Obama leaves office in less than a year, and Washington officials are wondering if his successor will continue these nuclear summits.
White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said the U.S. administration hopes that President Obama’s successor shall continue these summit meetings. “Safeguarding loose nuclear materials around the world is a top national security priority for the U.S.”

Foreign Relations: North Korea And G-7 Nations

In North Korea, Dictator Kim Jong-Un’s government has been regularly issuing propaganda statements, condemning the U.S. and South Korea, while warning that it could launch a pre-emptive strike against South Korea – or even the U.S. mainland – at any time (Manila Bulletin, 12 April).

Meanwhile, Kyodo News Agency (12 April) reported: “The Group of 7 Foreign Ministers agreed yesterday at Hiroshima to issue a declaration to show their strong commitment toward a world without nuclear weapons, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said. “The second day of the G-7 meeting in Hiroshima, the first of the two cities struck by U.S. atomic bombs in 1945, was also marked by a symbolic visit to the city’s Peace Memorial Park by John Kerry, who became the first U.S. Secretary of State to do so when he went there accompanied by the other G-7 Foreign Ministers. The visit to the Peace Memorial Park was also a first by the Foreign Ministers of the G-7’s two other nuclear weapons states, Britain and France.”

The ministers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.S. then laid wreaths at a cenotaph to the victims of the 06 August 1945 bombing, which reduced the city to ashes and killed some 140,000 people by the end of that year.

Agence France Presse (12 April) added: “Foreign ministers from the G-7 advanced economies said they strongly oppose provocation in the East and South China Seas, where China is locked in territorial disputes with nations including the Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan.”

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin tour the flight deck of the USS John C. Stennis in the South China Sea, 15 April 2016. Photo credit: Dept of Defense photo by Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin tour the flight deck of the USS John C. Stennis in the South China Sea, 15 April 2016. Photo credit: Dept of Defense photo by Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz

China is building islands on reefs in the South China Sea to bolster its claims. The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam also have claims on the same waters that are believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas, and through which about USD5 trillion in trade is shipped every year.

In an apparent reference to China’s territorial conflicts with the Philippines and other maritime countries, the G-7 group also called on all nations to observe international maritime laws, and implement binding judgments delivered by courts and tribunals.

China has shown increasing assertiveness in its claims, constructing artificial islands, and placing military facilities on them. The U.S. has challenged China’s “excessive” claims by conducting “freedom of navigation” operations close by. As a result, the military-defense-security expenses of these two giants have ballooned, and have also caused expenditures of affected nations to correspondingly expand beyond normal requirements.

Meanwhile, China Tries To Soft-Pedal

In his speech titled, “A New Vision for A Dynamic Asia through Joint Efforts” at the opening plenary of the BOAO Forum for Asia’s Annual Conference 2016 (BFA-AC2016) in Hainan province last 24 March, Premier Li Keqiang said (as if to soft-pedal China’s bullying moves in the Asia-Pacific Region):

“First, we need to jointly uphold peace and stability. Asia owes the past decades of rapid growth to an environment of overall peace and stability in the region. The past sufferings of war and turmoil have taught the Asian people the value of peace.

“Second, we need to jointly promote economic growth. Emerging economies and developing countries now account for 40% of the global economy. China proposes establishment of an Asian Financial Cooperation Association, and stands ready to work with all parties to improve Asia’s financial markets and prevent turbulence.

“Third, we need to jointly deepen integrated development. To achieve prosperity in Asia, we must make sure that no one is left behind. China hopes to align its initiative of building the 21st Century Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road with the development strategies of other countries and regional organizations. Together, we could foster a new pattern of regional development through integrated planning and coordinated actions.
“Fourth, we need to jointly uphold openness and inclusiveness. The peoples of Asia crave for peace, good-neighborliness and harmony. We need to make good use of all dialogue platforms in Asia to deepen people-to-people exchanges and enhance the unity of Asia. China proposes that an Asia Civilization Dialogue Conference be held and we welcome all countries and regional organizations to take an active part.
“Fifth, we need to work jointly to trigger innovation. To keep up the momentum of prosperity and development, we need to give full play to Asia’s unique advantage of abundant human resources, and bring out the potential and creativity of all its people. Asia’s new future relies on innovation and talented personnel….”

China’s Xinhua News Agency (02 April) reported: “Addressing the opening plenary session of the two-day Fourth Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, China’s President Xi Jinping said his country has been committed to step up its own nuclear security while advancing international cooperation…”

Building for Peace

During the past three weeks, FVR was privileged to visit both Mainland China in Guangzhou-Hainan and Taiwan in Taipei-Taoyuan for important meetings. On both sides of the Taiwan Strait, the constant preoccupation of the common people and local leaders appears to be peace-making, peace-keeping, and building for peace and harmony in the world, as in the Philippines.

So, why is there still so much wasteful expenditure of funds and efforts on military operations and expansion by some countries? Already, there is so much death, devastation, and suffering from the weapons of mass destruction (WMD)! Why not invest in weapons of mass upliftment like education, innovation, and basic infrastructure?

Part II: ENVIRONMENTAL CALAMITIES, MILITARY THREATS, AND OTHER DANGERS

Significant global developments of the last few months have served to highlight what FVR has been emphasizing consistently as serious concerns for our citizenry, and are particularly grave problems which the incoming Administration must positively address without delay come 30 June 2016. At this point in time, this task involves all the 5 wannabe Presidents and the 6 Vice-Presidentiables, plus all the potential lawmakers in the new 17th Congress, and all functionaries in local government at every level.

Uncertainties Facing the People

At no time since the aftermath of 9-11 which was the terrorist (Al Qaeda) attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. on 11 September 2001 has there been such a combination of military threats, economic and financial uncertainties, environmental calamities, and other risks as we are now seeing during this crucial year of 2016.

There is no need to elaborate here on these misfortunes that are almost daily being reported by multi-media and constantly viewed by the Filipino audience:

  • Severe effects of El Niño (drought) in Asian countries, particularly in the Philippines.
  • Costly encounters between the Abu Sayyaf and the AFP/PNP; a creeping international terrorism.
  • Death and destruction within the Syria-Iraq borders because of prolonged civil wars/Islamic terrorism which have forced more than a million Arab refugees to escape from their homeland to seek sanctuaries in Europe – even if this means traversing the treacherous Mediterranean Sea on flimsy rubber boats.
  • North Korea’s claim of successful tests of a ballistic missile engine designed for an ICBM that would guarantee an eventual nuclear strike in the U.S. mainland.
  • Devastating earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in Nepal, Japan, Taiwan and Ecuador with the suddenness and deadliness of lightning strikes.
  • Continuing threats of shooting encounters in the South China Sea and across the 38th parallel border of South and North Korea that could lead to WWIII.
  • US/EU vs. Russia confrontations on Ukraine, Iran and Syria issues in the negotiations for an effective ceasefire.
  • Uncertain, mixed indications of weak global economic recovery slowed down by China’s over heating, to single digit growth.
  • Continued decline of oil prices causing long-standing economic crisis in some countries.

Defense Chiefs Visit “Flash-point Waters”

Agence France Presse (16 April) reported that U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter visited a warship close to the disputed flash-point waters of the South China Sea in a show of American commitment to maintaining stability in the hotly contested waterway amid China’s increasingly aggressive behavior.

“This is a strong message to the region that the U.S. intends to continue to play a role in keeping peace and stability in this region,” Carter told reporters aboard the USS John C. Stennis, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier able to carry 75 fighter planes plus several helicopters. Our Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Hernando Iriberri, and Defense Undersecretary Emmanuel Bautista, accompanied him.

Beijing, Manila, and Washington DC have repeatedly traded accusations over who is responsible for raising tensions in the South China Sea, with the U.S., the Philippines and other nations citing China’s island-building projects and related efforts to block other disputants from parts of the crucial waterway – through which passes more than USD5 trillion in global trade each year.

Responding to what it called provocative plans for stepped-up U.S.-Philippine military cooperation, China said it would “resolutely defend” its interests and accused the two longstanding allies of militarizing the South China Sea and harboring a “Cold War mentality.”

Comments from China’s Defense Ministry came shortly after the 14 April announcement that the U.S. would send troops and planes to the Philippines for more frequent “rotations” and increase joint sea and air patrols with Philippine forces in the disputed South China Sea.

China duly justifies its island developments as mainly for civilian purposes and that U.S. naval activities, especially intrusion of ships close to its newly built islands, threaten China’s security (Agence France Presse, 16 April). These U.S. naval operations may involve Japan, China’s historical nemesis. They are feuding over ownership of a string of uninhabited Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea.

Tonkin Gulf and Other Sources of Uncertainty

Vietnam and China also continue to squabble over the latter’s persistence in drilling for oil and gas particularly in the Gulf of Tonkin. Reuters (09 April) reported: “China moved a controversial oil rig and started drilling in waters where jurisdiction is unclear, the latest sign of festering unease among the two Communist neighbors.”

Vietnam and Philippines have been eying naval war games, similar to the just concluded Philippines – U.S. “Balikatan” (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) Exercises, and joint sea patrols. Ties have strengthened between the two Southeast Asian countries even as China’s assertiveness continues to intensify. Last November, Vietnam and Philippines agreed on a strategic partnership to boost security relations while China expands its presence in the strategic waterway, and deploys military equipment to the Spratly and Paracel islands.

Troops from both countries have played sports together twice since 2014 in the disputed islands they occupy. Last 11 April, Philippine Foreign Secretary Jose Rene Almendras was the first foreign dignitary to meet Vietnam’s new Prime Minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

Also, during a visit last week to Singapore by Jose Almendras, Singapore and Philippines agreed to exhaust all multilateral approaches, mainly through the ASEAN system, to resolve issues surrounding the South China Sea.

In addition to these fresh initiatives, the Indonesian energy company Pertamina plans to explore for oil and gas in areas close to Indonesia’s maritime border in the South China Sea to assert its territorial rights.

“The Indonesian Government needs to intensify activities around the borders and one of Pertamina’s strategies is to support this,” Syamsu Alam, the upstream director of the state-owned company, told Reuters in a recent interview. He said Indonesia had lost sovereignty over two disputed islands in the past because it was not developing those areas.

Depredations by the Abu Sayyaf

In The New Standard (14 April), retired General Florencio Fianza, a prolific military analyst, affirmed: “April 9 was another sad day for our Armed Services. In an engagement in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan between the kidnap-for-ransom group Abu Sayyaf and elements of the Philippine Army’s 44th Infantry Battalion, 18 soldiers were killed and about 53 wounded. Five of the Abu Sayyaf members were reported killed including a Moroccan by the name of Mohamad Khattab and Haipa Hapilon, son of the current Abu Sayyaf head. There is a lot at stake. The Bangsamoro Basic Law, the ISIS connection, the fighting reputation of our Armed Services, the reliability of the MILF as a peace partner, etc. We cannot simply go on suffering huge casualty rates. During the first year of this administration, 19 Army soldiers were killed by the MILF for not coordinating. Then later the Mamasapano operation that resulted in the killing of 44 PNP SAF personnel…”

In Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and at sea, the Abu Sayyaf has also effected kidnapping atrocities that have kept the AFP-PNP and local government units busy. It is not only bad for the reputation of the country that the Abu Sayyaf continues to kidnap foreigners at will. It also affects the morale of our troops and therefore diminishes their ability to fight. Almost always, the members of the group are dispersed to avoid large encounters with the military or police. Marauding bands only get together when they kidnap. Foreigners are preferred as they are more willing to pay ransom. The Abu Sayyaf is the one criminal group that continues to give our country a black eye and a bad reputation.

Some Silver Linings

In a Concerned Citizens Forum in Alabang last week to which FVR was invited, Senior Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonio T. Carpio gave a convincing, well-documented lecture on China’s aggression in the South China Sea, and the progress of the Philippine case before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) at the Hague. He opined that world opinion appears to be swinging towards the side of the rule of law – and therefore in favor of the Philippine position.

For his part, FVR repeated his familiar aspiration for enduring peace and sustainable development (which is the UN’s goal by 2030), considering the massive costs of arms build-up by the superpowers, the funds and assets for which would surely be better invested to fight mankind’s 21st century enemies which are mainly poverty, hunger, pandemic diseases, environmental degradation, and international terrorism. He also asserted that the Philippines could play a major role in attaining this worldwide goal, particularly by our very technically proficient young professionals.

Kaya natin ito!

Please send any comments to fvr@rpdev.org. Copies of articles are available at www.rpdev.org.

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