Geopolitical Analysis & Forecasting

Philippines: The Next US Military Base?

Zachary Fillingham

Activists hold a protest in front of the

Geopoliticalmonitor.com

Summary

The standoff playing out between China and the Philippines over the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea may one day be looked back on as the harbinger of a renewed American military presence in the Philippines.

Analysis

The current standoff began on April 10th when Chinese ships intervened to prevent a Philippine Navy vessel from detaining Chinese fishermen who were caught fishing in Philippine territorial waters. What followed were several days of posturing on both sides, as Chinese patrol boats were sent in and then recalled, and the Philippine Navy boat was pulled out and replaced with a coast guard vessel. As of April 16th, both sides are keeping ships in the disputed area.

Of the many points of conflict that currently exist throughout the South China Sea, this one is particularly important because of the geopolitical fallout it might entail. The Scarborough Shoal is well within the Philippines’ 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), making China’s current military excursion to protect its fisherman stand as a rather stark breach of sovereignty, or at least sovereignty as it’s defined under the UN Law of the Sea. For the government of the Philippines, this breach couldn’t come at a worse time. A month hasn’t even passed since the last ASEAN summit came to a close in Cambodia without an agreement on how to resolve overlapping claims in the South China Sea. Essentially, Manila has been left with no diplomatic recourse in dealing with an increasingly assertive Chinese government; one that now seems willing to deploy its military assets in Philippine territorial waters.

With diplomacy off the table and a Chinese government that isn’t shy to put its $114 billion advantage in military spending to work for it, Manila is in need of allies that can help it redress this military imbalance. And of course, there’s no better ally for this than the United States.

Ever since the Philippines Senate voted to shut down Clark Air Force Base and the Subic Naval Base in 1991, the United States has been quietly deepening its indirect military links with the government of the Philippines. In 1999, the Philippines-US Visiting Forces Agreement came into effect, allowing for the deployment of US troops under a very loose pretense of ‘training missions.’ And this was followed by another agreement in 2002 that allowed for the storage and pre-positioning of US military equipment in Philippines territory.

This legislative build-up towards a renewed permanent deployment will intensify now that popular opinion within the Philippines is sure to swing back in favor of leveraging the United States military against an increasingly threatening PLA Navy. In fact, the idea of US military bases in the Philippines wasn’t even terribly unpopular back in 1991, and most of the anti-base sentiment grew out of urban elites who believed, somewhat ironically given present circumstances, that the bases infringed on national sovereignty.

On the American side, new permanent bases in the Philippines would be a masterstroke for Obama’s Asia-Pacific pivot policy. The United States has been expanded its Pacific footprint into Australia and it is now upgrading airstrips on the Cocos Islands between Australia and Sri Lanka. A new base in the Philippines would provide several benefits: it would help to frustrate the PLA Navy’s attempts to expand its defense perimeter, it would allow for a quicker and multi-pronged military response in the event of a conflict over Taiwan, and it would establish the US military as a counterbalance against Chinese assertiveness when dealing with other South China Sea claimants, including Washington’s other new friend- Vietnam.

With so much to lose from a possible re-establishment of permanent US military bases in the Philippines, it seems a little strange for Beijing to want to back Manila into a corner like this. It’s possible this hyper-aggressive stance on the South China Sea might be a little domestic political posturing in the lead-up to the rollover in Chinese leadership later this year. The next generation of Chinese leaders could very well wise up to the risks of new American bases and go hard on the diplomatic track; it’s just a question of whether or not it will already be too late.

Zachary Fillingham is a contributor to Geopoliticalmonitor.com

View Situation Reports
  • eve6

    Some activist in my country shouting that they don’t want the Americans to have military base but millions of silent Filipinos like me are in favour of such move. For the reasons:

    1. It can help protect the Philippines against military actions from other country.

    2. It can help upgrade the military capability like what we have during 70′s as one of most powerful military in South East Asia. Now we are at the bottom.

    3. Filipinos trust the Americans than the Chinese communist.

    One thing that i dont want to happen is putting the military base near the cities where Filipino woman are often tempted to prostitution like what happened in Olongapo.

  • Mike

    The author appears to be shallow and ignorant while commenting on the dispute: though the shoal is closer to Palawan, PH, it belongs to China. Get the fact clear first before airing out your idea.

  • Antolin

    I agree with eve6, the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) between the US-Philippines must stipulate condition of how the military should act in the Philippines and criminalize the prostitutions that will involve US military. Philippines is a beautiful country and the bases did good without the US military.

  • Antolin

    @Mike, If it is closer to the Philippines (Palawan) inside the 200 miles zone, what is the basis of the Chinese claim of the island..I’m confused…

  • Bai

    US military base in the Philippines is not actually a problem if the base is located outside the city to prevent easy access to our young Filipino women who are the most prone to being careless and reckless in dealing with soldiers. This type of problem is not only limited to the US soldier. Even our Filipino soldiers are also involved in such activities as seen by my two eyes in my province. So let us face the reality, nothing will happen if no one is willing to do such an immoral thing.

  • rommel

    Prostition is one of the oldest profession

  • BARRY O

    PROSTITUTION ALREADY THERE BEFORE THE U.S. A. BASES ARRIVE IN THE COUNTRY PHILIPPINES GOVERNMENT JUST HAVE TO TAKE CARE THIS PROBLEM, PROSTITUTION HAPPENING ALL OVER THE WORLD WE JUST HAVE CAREFULLY TACKLE WHEN IT OCCUR. LOOK THE BEAUTIFUL PHILIPPINES NEED UNITED STATE MILITARY, CHINA WILL TAKE TAKE OVER THAT PHILIPPINES, WITHOUT UNITED STATE YOU CAN SEE NOW WHAT CHINESE DOING TO YOU COUNTRY IS YOUR CHOICE. YOU WANT TO LIVE COMMUNIST VERY VERY VERY VERY BAD CHOICE,SO GIVE THEIR BASES BACK, ENJOY U.S.A MILITARY AGAIN.

  • david w foster

    I know their are good and bad things that come from the us bases beying in the Philippines but when I was their the economy in Pampanga provence was bad after they closed. the clark airbase was just falling in and not being used .sure their are bad things that come from wild young men being their. their are good things that come from the bases being their also like the local people being able to work on the base . my wife is from the Philippines and I understand both sides of this but the good out ways the bad . even with the bases closed in the 90s their was still prostitution in Angelis city . in fact that goes on in America too but its up to the military to prevent the young men from exploiting these situations . it will be good for those of us who plan to retire in the Philippines because we can have the benefits of the medical care of the bases and the family in which we have grown to love their. I have to say that not all Americans are bar hopping drinkers who abuse women . their are those of us who really love the Philippines for its family values and kind caring people . if you consider that any group of young men in the military will be that way no matter where they are . yes I have been to both the clark and subic bay areas and know that they are not taken care of as they were when the Americans were their .

Login

Connect with:

Lost your password?