President Barack Obama is meeting with Philippine President Benigno
Aquino III and other Southeast Asian heads of state at the Sunnylands
Estate in Rancho Mirage, California. Once the home of philanthropists
Walter and Leonore Annenberg,
the impeccably maintained
estate was also where Obama hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping during
his visit in 2013.
Hoping to have better
success this time around than he had with Xi, Obama is playing catch-up
his last year in office to make up for the considerable failures of his
administration with regards to the South China Sea. For instance during
the 2012 standoff between the Philippines and China in Scarborough
Shoal, the United States kept pathetically silent after China bamboozled
the Philippines (as well as the U.S.) into thinking it was moving its
vessels out of the area due to an approaching storm. Only after the
storm passed did both countries realize that the Chinese had stayed and
cordoned off the shoal to prevent Filipinos from ever using it again.
What was Obama's reaction: Silence.
Since 2013 China has
been building artificial islands in the Spratlys, constructing barracks,
and building airfields in obvious violation of international laws as
well as treaties it signed with its other Asian neighbors. And again
what did Obama do? Nothing!
It is only this year,
after Xi figuratively "kicked sand in his face" during his state visit
to Washington last year did Obama reluctantly send the USS Lassen to the
Spratlys to conduct a freedom of navigation patrol. But as the saying
goes "better late than never."
It is now up to Aquino
to bring the South China Sea issue to the forefront of Obama's Asian
agenda. He must remind Obama of his past shortcomings and insist that
the Philippines get increased military aid as well as an ironclad U.S.
commitment to stand by its longtime ally.
Aquino must wake up to
the fact that he was not elected because of his sterling qualities as a
statesman or his ability to bring other leaders to his side—he has
neither of those. He was elected simply because a sentimental Filipino
electorate had a soft spot in their heart for his mother Cory Aquino
(who also happened to be a most unqualified president).
must rise to the challenge and lead the charge to halt China's
aggression in the region. He must move to the forefront on this issue
and not hide behind his allies waiting for the U.S., Japan, Vietnam, or
others to lead. The Philippines after all has the most to lose because
the Spratlys are so close geographically. Many of its shoals, reefs, and
banks lie within the Philippine's 200 mile exclusive economic zone as
defined by international law.
So Mr. President, a little
less smiling, and a more serious demeanor is in order. Then, begin doing
the job you were elected to do. Published