The Game of Thrones is entering what promises to be an even more dramatic phase. The Philippines announced yesterday that its government would welcome a change to Japan’s pacifist postwar constitution as a counterbalance to China:
“We would welcome that very much,” Albert del Rosario told the Financial Times in an interview. “We are looking for balancing factors in the region and Japan could be a significant balancing factor.”
The unusual statement, which risks upsetting Beijing, reflects alarm in Manila at what it sees as Chinese provocation over the South China Sea, virtually all of which is claimed by Beijing. It also comes days before an election in Japan that could see the return as prime minister of Shinzo Abe, who is committed to revising Japan’s pacifist constitution and to beefing up its military.
Suffice it to say, a significantly enhanced Japanese military would go a long way to change the balance of power in Asia. As the FT report notes, Japan already has 50 large surface ships to China’s 70-odd.
But there’s an even more important point here. The Philippines is a country with bitter World War II memories (like China, Korea, and Singapore, but unlike India, which if anything saw Japan as a liberator). During the Japanese occupation, around one million Filipinos were killed. Today, the Philippines is thought to be one of the countries most subject to Chinese pressure. It has a weak economy and a small military. That a country like this is rallying against China rather than joining up with it, and doing it in such a dramatic way, tells us a lot about what is going on in Asia and the effect Beijing’s foreign policy is having on its neighbors.
The rising regional tensions, if anything, underline the need for a continuing U.S. presence. The Philippine foreign minister, like Japan, has welcomed that presence and agreed to “more U.S. ship visits and more joint training exercises.” This is a good sign. America is a stabilizing force in the region; we don’t want war, and we don’t want boundaries changed by force.
Reassuring our allies while reaching out to China and trying to keep the temperature cool is going to be a tough assignment, and there is no way to do this on the cheap. The President and his new Secretary of State have their work cut out for them. Pivoting is hard work.