Talisman sabre-rattling and US manoeuvres in the Philippines
Written by: (Contributed) on 18 July 2021
In mid-July an official US Defence Department media release stated they would "defend the Philippines against any attack" in a wave of escalating high-level diplomatic hostilities. The announcement took place against a background where Beijing had chased a US warship from close to islands in the South China Seas. (1)
Diplomatic tensions have already soared in the Indo-Pacific region with the beginning of the US-led Talisman Sabre 2021 military exercises in late June. A total of 2,200 US marines arrived in northern Australia last month is preparation for the exercises, which include Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea (ROK), New Zealand and the UK, with France, India and Indonesia having official observer status.
The US-led military exercises remain focussed upon attempts to counter China across the wider region and have been regarded by many as trial runs for real-war scenarios, with specific reference to the South China Seas. Recent US-led concerns over rocks and reefs close to the Philippines and Fiery Cross and Subi Reefs in the seas have resulted in the Philippines being drawn into escalating diplomatic tensions.
International trade estimated at reaching $5 trillion each year passes through the heavily congested shipping lanes, which provide life-lines for most countries and their economies.
The seas also have hundreds of small reefs, islands and land-masses which remain a problem for contested sovereignty claims by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan together with China.
Fears exist that hostilities over seemingly trivial sovereignty claims over miniscule rock formations sometimes only visible at low-tides, could escalate rapidly into open military conflict between the US and China.
The Philippines, for the US, remains a central consideration for regional foreign policy; it is at the centre of an arc which swings to the more developed countries of northern Asia and those of under-developed southern Asia and the South Pacific which are rich in natural resources. The US has dominated the Philippines, economically, politically and culturally, for many decades. The Philippines has also, historically, been given high priority with US military and security planning due to its strategic position for provision of overseeing the movement of shipping in the South China Seas.
While Philippine-US relations have been strained during the recent period of the Duterte presidential administration, as the country has sought to accommodate China, presidential elections scheduled for 2022 are likely to result in a return of remnants of the Marcos oligarchy which ruled the country during the previous Cold War. During the Marcos presidency the Philippines was a repressive country governed by a "rubber stamp National Assembly" and resembled a kleptocracy. (2) The Marcos administration was also noted for strong links to Chinese triads and their criminal operations. (3) Imelda Marcos, widow of the former president, furthermore, has been noted for receiving support from the US-based far-right racialist Liberty Lobby, alongside the French Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen and the neo-Nazi Deutsche Volksunion in Germany. (4)
The remnants of the Marcos oligarchy have resorted to strategies of tension, designed to mobilise pro-US far-right wing and divisive political positions in preparation for presidential elections. They were formerly the Philippine representatives and affiliates to the notorious World Anti-Communist League (WACL), a shadowy pro-US Taiwan-based quasi-intelligence organisation. (5) They, no doubt, remain close to the re-named World League for Freedom and Democracy (WLFD), and all with which affiliation to that organisation entails.
The prevailing political culture in the Philippines has become acrid and venomous and heavily polarised.
Moves by the Duterte administration to open joint exploration projects with China in the West Philippine Sea on the 60-40 basis, for example, resulted in Gary Alejano, a member of the House of Representatives, accusing President Duterte of "treason". (6) The fact the Duterte administration stated "the country does not have the money to do the exploration on its own"', carried no weight with the pro-US political opposition. (7)
The Marcos oligarchy have attempted to play a similar role during the present Cold War, carefully pulling the strings of others to destabilise the Duterte administration.
Claims accusing Duterte of actually siding with China were made by Senator Paulo Benigno Acquino IV in 2018, for example, and supported by many other opposition figures who held pro-US political positions. (8) The Duterte administration, nevertheless, played down military and diplomatic hostilities between the US and China on the basis it was not in the Philippines "national interest to get involved in any armed conflict", and that the country "would pursue an independent foreign policy". (9)
The US imperialists, however, have bided their time.
The US has quietly planned and opened five important military facilities inside Philippine bases in recent years. A large-scale US military warehouse in the Basa Air Base in Pampanga in 2017, was accompanied by facilities housed inside the Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro City and Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu City. (10) The five US military facilities have been noted as part of US provision for 'pre-positioning' vital equipment and supplies for their regional operations, and remain off-limits for Philippine nationals. (11)
The recent US statement about the defence and security of the Philippines can, therefore, best be seen in light of attempting to reassert traditional hegemonic positions which include the centrality of the country for future US regional diplomatic and military positions.
1. America tests China, warns it will fight for Philippines, Australian, 14 July 2021.
2. Inside the League, Scott Anderson and Jon Lee Anderson, (New York, 1986), page 59.
3. The Dragon Syndicates, Martin Booth, (New York, 1999), pages, 241, 252-3, 331.
4. The Beast Reawakens, Martin Lee, (London, 1997), page 356.
5. Inside the League, op.cit., with specific reference to: Appendix – The League List, pp. 275-285.
6. West Philippine Sea joint exploration is treason – lawmaker, The Philippine Star, 2 May 2018.
8. Duterte won't antagonise China over missile system, The Philippine Star, 9 May 2018.
9. Tightening Philippine military involvement with the US, The Philippine Star, 5 May 2018.