Speech: US, China and ASEAN: The Evolving Realities in the West Philippine Sea


Rafael M. Alunan III

Asian Institute of Management

October, 4, 2013


Former President FVR; former Prime Minister Cesar Virata; distinguished speakers (who will be properly introduced later); members of the Cabinet and sub-Cabinet, past and present; the national security sector; diplomatic corps; members of academe and the business community:

Good morning! This is the second in a series of fora on the challenges that the Philippines and other countries face in the South and East China Seas. Our forum today is sponsored by the Asian Institute of Mgt, the Mgt Assn of the Phils, Makati Business Club, Employers Confederation of the Phils, Former Senior Government Officials, Asia Society, and the alumni assns of Harvard-Kennedy School of Govt and Tuft’s Fletcher School of Diplomacy. In their behalf, thank you for being here.

The first forum was held last December, here at AIM, which was influenced by a position paper from Former Senior Gov’t Officials a few months before that conveyed to the President their grave concern regarding China’s threats to national security; mobilizing the elements of national power and taking a “whole of nation approach” to address our intertwined internal and external challenges; and the need to mobilize long-term funding for the desired minimum credible defense posture to preserve, protect and defend our EEZ, territorial integrity and national honor.

That first forum was an orientation seminar, if you will, a 101 gathering to get acquainted with China’s imperialist rise in this part of the world and how it was impacting the Philippines and the region. We had:

  • former Senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani, who pushed for the Baselines bill in 1993 that defined the archipelagic baselines which included Scarborough Shoal; and designated the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) as a “regime of islands.”
  • former ABC station chief in China, Chito Sta Romana, who lived there for more than 3 decades and knows the Chinese mind well, and, who I’ve had the pleasure of listening to again a couple of months ago at the Phil Navy’s Warfare Center;
  • DFA ASEC Henry Bensurto who helped the audience understand the 9-dash line; the first and second island chains; the overlapping EEZ’s of the countries around the South China Sea; and nuances of our maritime dispute with China.
  • In my case I pointed out China’s transgressions in the West Phil Sea and its increasingly bellicose language and coercive acts to legitimize its creeping annexation of the islands and reefs in the South China Sea, in relation to its long-range plans for unrestricted warfare to counter U.S. power.

The book “Unrestricted Warfare” authored by Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui is instructive. It was published by the PLA press in 1999 and outlines the Chinese strategy to counter U.S. power. The doctrine clearly states that a direct kinetic conflict would be less effective than irregular warfare. An introduction to the English version (translated by CIA and published in Panama) lists Financial Warfare as the first and foremost mechanism to attack the United States:

“‘Financial warfare (in which a country is subjected without a drop of blood being spilled)’ means entering and subverting banking and stock markets and manipulating the value of a targeted currency.”

There should be zero doubt that the Chinese have gained this capability through conventional and cyber means. Incredibly, the book touted an attack on the World Trade Center as an example three years before 9-11. The two PLA colonels who authored Unrestricted Warfare were reportedly hailed as heroes in China after 9-11.

Unrestricted Warfare indicates that China’s preparing and encouraging others to engage the U.S. and it allies in total war, suggesting courses of action such as using computers, smuggling illegal immigrants, manipulating the stock markets, influencing the U.S. media, even using weapons of mass destruction in conducting “asymmetrical” or multi-dimensional attacks on almost every aspect of their social, economic and political life.

In what ways is China perceived to be undermining our national security?

  • Thousands of illegal construction workers, traders and entrepreneurs
  • Part ownership and full control of the national grid
  • Telco backbone provided by China.
  • Narcotics manufacturing and trafficking.
  • Illegal mining operations and smuggling of gold, nickel, iron ore, copper, rare earths, black sand.
  • Trojan horses in the corridors of power, corrupting and co-opting national and local public officials.
  • Occupation of Mischief Reef; annexation of Scarborough Shoal; intimidating presence off
  • Ayungin Shoal.
  • Evasion of taxes and customs duties
  • Bogus products, money and financial instruments.
  • Infiltration of mass and social media, and maritime transport system.

For today’s forum, we thank Dr Scott Thompson, Prof Emeritus of the Fletcher School of Diplomacy, for bringing our distinguished guests to town to share with us their geopolitical and regional security perspectives. We also thank Gen Joe Almonte, who is indisposed, for persuading our eminent third speaker to share with us his understanding of the Phil legal case that it filed before ITLOS.

Given their collective wealth of experience and individual merits of excellence in their respective fields, I am hopeful that we will emerge at the end of this forum with a more focused view on the emerging threats and dangers posed by an increasingly aggressive China to global stability, regional security and our own national security.

The first time I came across the idea that China was emerging as a serious global player was in 1988 in Washington DC where I attended a Young Leaders of Asia conference on technology. The Chinese delegation was most impressive as it unveiled quite casually with admirable chutzpah its 50-year master plan to be a superpower; and that they would use technology to bring them over the top.

25 years down the road, despite the global dynamics that have rocked our world in recent years and its deleterious impact on China’s economy, you’ll agree with me that it’s been so far so good for China, and possibly still on course.

The second time I came across China as an emerging aggressive neighbor was when I sat as a member of the National Security Council in the Ramos Administration. In 1995 we learned with great dismay that China had managed to slip through and build an installation on Mischief Reef, well within the country’s EEZ. Today that structure is a military fortification.

In subsequent years,

  • we saw China shed off its policy of peaceful rise and present the face of a fiery dragon, annexing or attempting occupation of territories in the Paracels, Spratlys, Scarborough and Senkaku Islands;
  • establishing administrative units to legitimize occupation of annexed territories within their imagined 9-dash line, an idea that originated as 11-dashes with Chiang Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang government before being deposed by Mao Zedong, and;
  • threatening punishment against any “trouble maker” that rises up in protest mouthed by a train of PLA generals; Party mouthpieces; state-owned media; PLA-linked think tanks and academics.

Yet, in the face of all that, the Philippines’ external defense posture has been constantly weak from the time the US security umbrella was lifted in 1991 upon the closure of its bases. The Ramos administration addressed that by passing a law converting Philippine base lands to commercial-residential use, in order to generate revenues for defense modernization.

However, implementation in the succeeding two administrations lacked single-minded purpose. It is only today that government has gone into catch-up mode to make up for lost time. Nonetheless, persistent internal security challenges, increasing external challenges from neighboring countries, and the corrosive nature of corruption, behooves the national security community to come together to think as one and act as one with dispatch.

There is so much to understand about:

  • great power politics;
  • multilateral and bilateral relations;
  • regional security arrangements;
  • rebalancing of national interests;
  • coalition-building in relation to America’s pivot to Asia;
  • formulating the right force mix to defend our interests in the West Phil Sea, now and in the future, alone or as a coalition partner;
  • how much to fund, and the sourcing of those funds, to achieve the desired minimum credible defense posture;
  • the wherewithal required other than the force of arms to secure the country, and;
  • what a win or loss in ITLOS would mean to all of us.

All that brings us now to why our guest speakers were carefully selected to provide context to the issues we’ve been grappling with, broaden our perspectives and awareness of the volatile environment in the South China Sea; and help clarify for us, from their lens, what else it will take government to look after national security and become a reliable coalition partner.

From that first forum to this one, the perception is that not much has substantially taken place to firm up the national security agenda. Hopefully, the situation would be different by the time we have the third forum. On that note, thank you for honoring us with your presence. Have a great morning!