Responding to the question of then Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin asserted that the Enhance Defense Cooperation Agreement between the Philippines and the United States was a deterrent because China didn’t attack the resupply mission to our few soldiers stationed inside the BRP Sierra Madre that our navy ran aground at the Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
Gazmin emphasized that no “shooting war” happened.
In her column at the Manila Times on February 27, 2018, Sass Rogando Sassot interjected, “But was that proof of deterrence? Was China’s restraint caused by EDCA?”
Sassot explains, “Signed on April 28, 2014, EDCA is a supplementary agreement to our Cold War-era Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the US. Short of letting the Americans establish permanent bases in our territory, EDCA allows their forces to have rotational presence in our military bases and to be able to build facilities for repairs, refueling, and replenishment of supplies.”
Five of our military bases in our country had been opened by former president Benigno Simeon (BS) Aquino, to wit: Antonio Bautista Airbase (Palawan); Basa Airbase (Pampanga); Fort Magsaysay (Nueva Ecija); Lumbia airport (Cagayan de Oro); and the Mactan-Benito Ebuen Airbase (Mactan).
In that same hearing the late Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago asked Gazmin “What will the US do if a Chinese ship fires at a Philippine ship in the West Philippine Sea?”
The defense secretary answered that “we can pull the US to join in the fight.” However, he was quick to add: But before the US could intervene, their Congress must first approve it. And “the process takes long,” Gazmin admitted
Sassot further elucidates, “EDCA, just like the Mutual Defense Treaty, doesn’t guarantee automatic defense. This is clear in Article IV of the MDT, the mother pact of EDCA, which states that the course of action the parties to the treaty would take in case of an armed attack against any of them will have to be decided according to their “constitutional processes.”
The classic remark of former President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos Sr. to the National Press Club in Washington DC on September 1982 best describes the consequences, “What does that mean? That means that you guys will be debating about it here, while we are already dying there.”
Yet Gazmin was still adamant that EDCA would serve as a deterrent to China.
If we are to fast-forward to what has happened as a result of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent visit to Taiwan, a shooting war involving China and the United States, is no longer just in the realm of possibility, but probability.
Deterrence happens if your adversary who is willing and ready to use force decided not to because he’s threatened by your military capability and, more importantly, by your resolve to use it against him.
China’s restraint on the earlier Ayungin Shoal incident was not caused by EDCA.
Unlike our forever balancing act which we call ‘independent foreign policy, China’s response was based on principles.
Confucius says “The gentleman aims at harmony, not uniformity.” It accepts that many differences exist in the universe, nature and society. But it is aware that differences do not necessarily result in conflict or contradiction.
In the 1950s, this was amplified by Chinese leaders to seeking coexistence despite diversity, mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equity and mutual benefit.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the Chinese government summed this up into directives building a harmonious neighborhood around China, a harmonious Asia and a harmonious world. This is what we now know as a “community with a shared future for mankind”.
But amidst conflict, they call it “active defense” embodied in the common Chinese saying “We will not attack unless we are attacked; we will certainly counterattack if we are attacked.
This is the benchmark that the US Center for New American Security (CNAS) in the wargames that it mocked as a possible scenario in case the Pelosi visit ends up with an armed confrontation:
- Simulating three attacks on China mainland by the US, the CNAS war games participants drew out eleven possible retaliations. The US attacks will most probably come from US surface ships and submarines, or US aircraft. China does not have to launch a single navy or air force equipment to do its job. Its powerhouse will be delivered by China’s Dong Feng advanced missile technology launched from the Chinese mainland.
- In fact, one of these potential missiles, could tipped with nuclear warhead intended for Hawaii. Most probably it would be the DF-31A, China’s newest road-mobile, solid-fuel ICBM that can carry a single 1,000 kt warhead, or up to three 20-150 kt Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicle or MIRV warheads, reaching 11,000+ km, far enough to reach Hawaii up to Los Angeles.
- Two are intended for the DF-26C, or Guam killer, an IRBM with a range of at least 5,000 km (3,100 mi).
- But this CNAS scenario is an understatement. China already has the DF-41 (CSS-20), capable of being armed with ten or twelve MIRV warheads, with an estimated range between 12,000 – 15,000 km, it is believed to the world’s longest-range missile, surpassing the range of the US LGM30 Minuteman ICBM.
- CNAS anticipated the US sending its aircrafts from Basa Air Base in Pampanga, so any of DF-SRMs can do its job for Northern Philippines.
- CNAS did not anticipate any retaliation against South Korea.
- What is not being discussed here is that in the event that any US attacks is launched against China, the total devastation will not be on Taiwan, but Japan. CNAS designated seven targets in Japan, from its northmost Chistose Air Base below Hokkaido to its southmost Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, home of largest U.S. military installation in the Asia-Pacific region and the 18th Wing of the 5th Air Force.
This not a Chinese scenario, but an American simulation.
This also dispels an irresponsible commentary by pseudo-scholar Renato de Castro of De La Salle University who said, ““Fighting a major war against the US and its allies? Good luck to China,” noting that in the last major conflict China was involved, the People’s Liberation Army suffered a major defeat in the hands of the Vietnamese militias in 1979.”
Obviously, de Castro’s outdated appreciation of China forty-three years ago no longer holds even two decades. China that has broken the back of the United States as the globe’s only superpower, onto now manifesting a multi-polar world.
Sassot, a more reliable Filipino scholar based in Netherlands: “For EDCA to be a deterrent, there must be a threat recognized by China as credible. How could EDCA be a credible deterrent if 1) the additional military force EDCA provides is not under our control; and 2) since we can’t control it, we cannot possibly have the resolve to use it?
EDCA is not a stick with which our country could threaten China.
Sassot further provided the Henry Kissinger benchmark to debunk Gazmin: “Since deterrence can only be tested negatively, by events that do not take place, and since it is never possible to demonstrate why something has not occurred, it became especially difficult to assess whether the existing policy was the best possible policy or a just barely effective one.”
Moreso, EDCA’s deterrence is miniscule when compared to an even inutility of our Mutual Defense Treaty with the Americans.
Further, an acid test of how the United States would respond has already proved a failure on how the US responded when one of our gray ships, the Gregorio del Pilar, was confronted with a standoff over Scarborough Shoal against two Chinese white Coast Guard ships. Did the US send any of its much-ballyhooed Naval superiority in our favor?
What happened when China was reclaiming at least five islands in the South China Seas, did the US confront China about what it was doing?
The only thing sure about how American leaders like Anthony Blinken assuring the Philippines that it will come to our rescue if we are attacked by any foreign power, is to con us into allowing our country to be a proxy to its wars, just like it did to Ukraine that is as of today is heavily devastated already.
I am certain that the Americans will fight for the Philippines, up to the last Filipino – a grim repetition of history when Japan attacked us at the start of World War II.