For What Will We Go to War With China?
In his final state of the nation speech Monday, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte defended his refusal to confront China over Beijing's seizure and fortification of his country's islets in the South China Sea.
"It will be a massacre if I go and fight a war now," said Duterte. "We are not yet a competent and able enemy of the other side."
Duterte is a realist. He will not challenge China to retrieve his lost territories, as his country would be crushed. But Duterte has a hole card: a U.S. guarantee to fight China, should he stumble into war with China.
Consider. Earlier this month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken assured Manila we would invoke the U.S.-Philippines mutual security pact in the event of Chinese military action against Philippine assets.
"We also reaffirm," said Blinken, "that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty."
Is this an American war guarantee to fight the People's Republic of China, if the Philippines engage a Chinese warship over one of a disputed half-dozen rocks and reefs in the South China Sea? So it would appear.
Why are we threatening this?
Is who controls Mischief Reef or Scarborough Shoal a matter of such vital U.S. interest as to justify war between us and China?
Tuesday, in Singapore, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reaffirmed the American commitment to go to war on behalf of the Philippines, should Manila attempt, militarily, to retrieve its stolen property.
Said Austin: "Beijing's claim to the vast majority of the South China Sea has no basis in international law. ... We remain committed to the treaty obligations that we have to Japan in the Senkaku Islands and to the Philippines in the South China Sea."