WASHINGTON D.C. - With China testing its first aircraft carrier and building a second, former President Fidel V. Ramos said China should be careful about its efforts to break the “strategic dominance” of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region.
“China’s proximate aim is to limit American freedom of access” and “erode the credibility of Washington’s security guarantees to the East Asian states, including and especially the Philippines,” he told a standing-room-only gathering at The Heritage Foundation.
Ramos, who is travelling across the US to promote his biography “Trustee of a Nation” written by Scott Thompson, said the Philippines has a role in helping preserve the balance of power in the region.
"We, where we come from, expect South China Sea tensions to continue because the root cause is really China's perceived need to break out from under the strategic dominance of the Western allies," he explained.
But he believes the current “irritants” will be short lived even as the South China Sea remains a tinderbox until “wiser leaders” achieve a “balance of mutual benefit.”
He described the tensions over the Spratly Islands, which is claimed in part or in whole by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei, as “shadow boxing”.
“They are shadow boxing. They’re doing this to get a reaction from you (the US) and if it’s negative enough, they will raise the ante and come out with some other more powerful irritant and it is going to escalate in this manner,” he predicted.
Ramos said the Philippine was in the “fall-out area” of any superpower conflict in the region. “Any shooting incident at the 38th parallel (Korean Peninsula) or there in the Spratlys or maybe a bigger shooting incident between India and Pakistan would serve to paralyze commerce, travel and all kinds of economic activity,” he warned.
That could potentially hurt China’s march to becoming the world’s newest superpower. Drawing from his experience as a soldier, Ramos said the first principle of war is to “know where you are going, what is the result you want.”
He seemed to caution China that any miscalculation in dealing with the Spratly Islands dispute could have a devastating impact on the mainland over the long haul.
“You have to look to the future and see what’s ahead but I think all that comes back to today, to getting the Chinese to behave responsibly,” said Walter Lohman, Director of the Asian Studies Center in The Heritage Foundation.
“Sending naval or coast guard vessels up to the Philippine shoreline to assert its authority is not a cooperative way of going about it,” Lohman told the ABS-CBN North America News Bureau.
There are fears the military equilibrium in the South China Sea might be disrupted when China deploys aircraft carriers there or starts deploying massive offshore oil platforms to pump oil and natural gas from the Spratly Islands.
But Ramos seemed to reduce the chances of a military contest between the US and China, telling his audience that China’s 1st aircraft carrier was a discard from Russia because it was “vintage World War II”.
Former US Ambassador to the Philippines Thomas Hubbard said President Aquino “is doing the right thing when he makes clear the Philippine interest (over the Spratlys) and dealing very directly with the Chinese.”
Lohman said the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty, which marked its 50th year last month, remains relevant to achieving the two nations’ objectives in the South China Sea.
“The alliance is a factor in working through these issues in the South China Sea as much as it is to maintain balance in the region,” he said, “The US has to stay actively engaged in assessing (Philippine defense) needs, capacity and funding requirements to give the Philippines a voice in these debates.”