In Asian media this week – Taiwan key to first island chain control. Plus: US fosters belief war is inevitable; why the West thinks it speaks for the world; independence anniversary but nothing to celebrate; balloon saga shows why US must act tough; nothing can live in Manila Bay.
The first island chain of the East China and South China seas stretches from Japan to the Philippines. In the middle is Taiwan.
The chain is vital to the US and China. It is being strengthened militarily by both Tokyo and Manila.
Lawrence Chung, the South China Morning Post’s Taipei correspondent, says US control would block the PLA Navy from entering the Western Pacific. If the US did not dominate, he says, China would control Asian shipping routes and US bases in the Western Pacific would be vulnerable to attack.
Chung’s reference to the first island chain is part of a detailed update on Taiwan’s strategic position. Like it or not, Taiwan’s location makes it a flashpoint in Washington-Beijing superpower rivalry, he says.
The island chain defences are being tightened. Japan recently announced it would double its defence spending over the next five years, giving it the world’s third-biggest military budget.
Last week, the Philippines agreed to give the US access to four more military bases, bringing the total to nine.
The Philippines Daily Inquirer said the agreement was reached amid concerns over China’s assertiveness and a potential invasion of Taiwan.
“Our longest partner and ally has been the United States,” President Ferdinand Marcos Jr said. “As we traverse these rather troubled waters – geopolitical waters, the economic waters – that we are facing, I again put great importance on that partnership.”
This week, Marcos visited Japan, for his second meeting with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in less than five months. The Japan Times said the two aimed to sign seven agreements, in areas including defence, infrastructure development and information technology.
The paper said in a commentary piece Japan had emerged as a major defence partner for the Philippines.
“With Manila granting the Pentagon access to strategic bases near Taiwan’s southern shores, growing Japan-Philippine security co-operation [will be] crucial to determining the fate of the self-ruling island nation,” the commentary said.
SCMP reported the Chinese embassy in Manila as saying the US-Philippine bases agreement would escalate tensions in the region. In a restrained comment, the embassy said it hoped the Philippines would resist US attempts to take advantage of it.
Taiwan war is not inevitable
American Air Force General Mike Minihan has been quoted widely as saying his gut tells him war between the US and China will be break out in 2025.
Syndicated columnist Gwynne Dyer observed: “He didn’t mention what his elbow told him, or if he ever consulted his head on the matter.”
Dyer, a British-Canadian historian and journalist and retired naval officer, writes analytical pieces that appear in 45 countries and in several Asian newspapers, most often in Bangkok Post.
He says statements by military officers and think-tank analysts foster a fatalistic belief that war is inevitable.
It isn’t, he writes in his latest column. But it is possible.
How can Taiwan guard against a Chinese conquest? By following the kind of policy Nato is pursuing in Ukraine.
Make sure Taiwan has enough weapons and well-trained troops to resist an initial Chinese assault.
Strengthen US forces so they can escort supply ships through a Chinese blockade. And wait, he says. “Pray if you wish.”
SCMP columnist Alex Lo takes a different tack.
He also says the US is preparing the world for a potential hot war with China. “That is the only logical conclusion to be drawn from recent US and Nato statements and actions,” he says. “War increasingly looks like a perfectly acceptable outcome to Washington.”
But China would hold the key to avoiding war.
In the face of provocation, Beijing would have to behave like a Zen Buddhist master and not a raging bull.
“Fortunately, China is not Russia,” Lo says. “Chinese understand, instinctively and historically, that war is a scourge and little else.
“If you want world peace in the next decade or so, you’d better hope the Chinese succeed.”
When the West talks, no one listens
Other countries don’t listen to the cultural entity called the West, not because the rest of the world is hostile but because the West has nothing relevant to say.
That might seem to be a contemporary view – but it was expressed by a Hungarian political philosopher, the late Karl Polyani, in 1958.
Andrew Sheng, the former central banker who writes on global issues from an Asian perspective, quotes from a Polyani book, For a New West, in his latest column.
“Western universalism – this is the Jewish-Christian inheritance – was the claim to a way of life of universal validity,” Polyani wrote. “It was not a conversation, rather a spirited monologue. Since no answer came, we carried on in our train of thought – unsustained, but also uncontradicted.”
Washington, says Sheng, still has many “New Rome” policymakers who use a royal “we” as though the West speaks for the whole world.
Sheng, now a distinguished fellow at Hong Kong University’s Asia Global Institute, regularly writes opinion pieces that are distributed through the Asia News Network (and other organisations) and published by several Asian newspapers.
The Ukraine war, he says, has shown the cracks in that old logic. “The fact that 59 percent of the world’s population voted against or abstained on the UN condemnation of Russia…showed that the West today is a minority ‘we’,” he writes.
“The Rest remains unconvinced that the West is able to condemn with clean hands, having also violated international principles to invade other countries.
“[…] Welcome to the new global power game.”
Horrendous testimony to Sri Lankan elite governance
Sri Lanka marked 75 years since independence this month. Was it worth spending money on celebrations when the country is facing ruinous economic collapse?
That was a question asked by Jayadeva Uyangoda, Emeritus Professor of Political Science at Colombo University, writing in The Hindu newspaper on February 4, the day of the anniversary.
Why waste public money, he asked, when there were no achievements to celebrate?
Uyangoda, in an essay on Sri Lanka’s “independence without bloodshed,” gives a historical account of the weakness of the country’s independence and the violence and economic mayhem that followed in its wake.
Independence was a project of collaborationist, conservative bourgeois elites. There was no mass anti-colonial movement, as in India. The form of independence was criticised by both Sinhalese and Tamil nationalists, by the Left and by academics.
“Since the early 1970s, violent confrontations between the state and citizens have become the rule in politics,” he wrote.
“If this long record of social and political disorder has posed very sharp questions about the meaning of Sri Lanka’s independence, the current crisis of economic collapse points to new questions about the continuing record of policy and governance failures of Sri Lanka’s political elites.
“Sri Lanka, which had earlier boasted one of the best human development achievements, is now among the top 10 countries in the world with the highest number of malnourished children.
“When all this is taken together, it is horrendous testimony to how Sri Lanka’s political and bureaucratic elites have given citizens a dark future.”
Spy vs. Spy balloon row blows relations off course
China’s official media have taken the opportunity offered by the Spy vs. Spy balloon ruckus to lash out at America’s politics and the media.
“The ‘spy balloon saga’ is a deliberately orchestrated act of political drama by the US with the goal of purposefully weaponising fear, paranoia and mass hysteria in the name of discrediting China,” an OpEd piece in Global Times said.
“The designation of the balloon as a ‘spy’ balloon was one created by officials and relayed by journalists and never one based on empirical evidence…showing the power of the US to readily manipulate global discourse with the goal of smearing China.”
But the article made a more serious point when it said the toxicity of the US domestic political scene stopped the administration from taking a pragmatic approach to China because it was obliged to “appear tough”.
China Daily almost seemed to have a little fun amid a stern editorial on American efforts to “blow-up” a so-called China threat.
It referred to the shooting down of the balloon as a “Top Gun-style denouement” and may have allowed itself a pun in the article’s heading, saying the US “should not let its China policy drift”.
But, like Global Times, it made a point about the Biden administration needing to appear tough. The handling of the incident, the editorial said, exposed the administration’s inability to withstand pressure from the anti-China caucus.
Note: The US State Department said on Friday the balloon was able to collect communications signals
Pollution kills a beautiful bay
A striking and much-loved natural sight in Asia is the sun going down over Manila Bay. Sadly, the sun might now be setting metaphorically: Manila Bay is officially dead.
The Philippines Fisheries Department has declared that the bay is lifeless. It lacks oxygen and no living thing can survive in its waters, ucanews.com reported.
Ucanews, the Catholic Asian news site, said environmental experts largely blamed the bay’s pollution on 12 oil spills over the past 20 years.
The government had told fishermen to stop fishing in the bay. “We told them Manila Bay is dead,” Jeffrey Santos, of the Environment and Natural Resources Department said.
“There is no point in going out there to fish.”
Fishermen rejected the assessment. “It may be polluted but it is not dead because we can still catch fish in it,” one said.
The Philippines Daily Inquirer backed the fishermen – with a caveat. “Manila Bay is not dead. But whether it is barely living or has a healthy ecosystem is another matter,” it said in an editorial.
Harmful human activities had turned the bay into Metro Manila’s dumpsite, the paper said, listing untreated wastes from households, industry and farm and such solid wastes as plastics and food scraps as causes of the pollution.
“Whether it thrives or dies is up to government,” the editorial said.