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Manila sleepwalking into Washington's plans poses a threat to regional peace and stability: China Daily editorial

chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-11-23 20:25

This file photo shows Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr reviewing a military honor guard during a full honors arrival ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington DC, US, May 3, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

Although Manila claims the three-day joint maritime and air patrols of the Philippine and US forces in the South China Sea aim to "enhance regional security" and "foster a seamless partnership with the United States in safeguarding our shared interests", the contradiction between the two objectives should be evident to all.

The joint patrols that finished on Thursday were part of a series of military cooperation moves by the Philippines and the United States since Ferdinand Marcos Jr took office as Philippine president in June last year. While he pretends his administration is engaged in balanced diplomacy, in actuality it adopts a pro-US stance, with the aim of the Philippines being an ass in a lion's skin so as to gain the upper hand in its long-festering maritime disputes with China.

That's a miscalculation, as it has never been part of Washington's agenda to help settle the maritime disputes between China and the Philippines, or any other claimant countries in the region. Washington simply wants to protract and exploit the disputes so that it can sow the seeds of discord between China and its neighbors and also portray China as a bully.

For this purpose, the US provides a limited military input to create the illusion for countries such as the Philippines that they can always count on the US to deter what Washington hypes as China's "aggression" and "bullying".

As long as Beijing exercises restraint, as it is wont to do, knowing that a conflict will be detrimental to its own development prospects and those of the region as a whole, these countries feel secure and emboldened enough under what they imagine to be the protective wings of the US to try and encroach on China's islands, reefs and waters.

Their plundering is just wishful thinking based on not only a misinterpretation of Washington's strategic goals but also their underestimating of Beijing's resolve to safeguard the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity. The military drill of the People's Liberation Army in waters not far from the joint patrol routes in the South China Sea should be a clear wake-up call to Manila, which has been lulled into drowsy dreams by Washington's assumed solicitude.

Manila should be wary of the lullabies luring it into somnolence. With its agreement to open four new bases to the US military, at least two of which overlook waters to the south of China's Taiwan island, the Pentagon is making the Philippines a key part of its regional theater setting.

Manila ought to know better than anyone that an important reason why the disputes in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, and the Taiwan question, have not flared up into conflict over the years is because of the composure Beijing has demonstrated. The Ukraine crisis and Gaza conflict should be ready reminders to Manila of the dire consequences of letting the Philippines be used as a US proxy.

There is a broad consensus in the region that inclusivity and cooperation should be the guiding lights for resolving the disputes. If Manila continues to speculate on the US enabling it to brush aside that consensus it will eventually come to realize that it has been racking up an ever-larger losing bet.

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