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SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Crimea and the China question

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/24 March) – Crimea has been torn from Ukraine and is now part of the Russian Federation after President Vladimir Putin signed the law that annexed the region. Whether the annexation was legal or not depends on which side of the fence you’re on and how you appreciate the history of one of Eastern Europe’s most troubled spots.

But let’s set aside the issue of whether or not Putin’s move had conformed to the principles of international law. Filipinos should be more interested in how the western powers, the US in particular, responded to the aftermath of the referendum that took place beneath the shadows of Russian tanks.

Instead of sending troops or urging the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) to protect Ukraine’s borders to deter further Russian actions, US President Barack Obama has opted for a non-military approach – economic sanctions. Since Ukraine lacks the capability to match Russia’s armed forces and Nato appears to be allowing Putin to do his thing the road taken by Obama can only be understood as a calculated gamble. If economic sanctions worked with Iran, maybe it will work with Russia.

The sanctions cover dealings between US banks, companies and individuals on one hand and Russian banks and investors on the other. For instance, reports said Bank Rossiya, where many shareholders belong to Putin’s clique, can no longer conduct transactions in dollars. In addition, Obama is putting a squeeze on Russia’s vital industries, particularly oil and natural gas even if he knew that the move could affect not just Russia but also the world economy.

If natural gas, Russia’s biggest export earner, stops flowing to Western Europe Putin would be forced to reconsider plans of invading Ukraine. Europe – and the world – would be spared the anxieties over a likely nuclear confrontation between Nato and Russia, or at least a conventional war between them.

Now, would the US go to a similar extent to counter China’s misplaced claims over Panatag Shoal and the Spratly Islands? If she’s not eager to militarily confront China in the West Philippine Sea, what options does the US have in handling Chinese recalcitrance vis-à-vis her neighbors? That’s assuming the US is serious in coming to our defense in case the situation threatens to erupt or actually erupts into a shooting war.

While the US may be eager to thwart Chinese ambition to lord it over the South China Sea, it does not automatically guarantee a willingness to take sides – our side – in case of a war with China. Henry Kissinger did not lock eyes with Chinese leaders almost forty years ago to thaw the ice between China and the US only to waste the diplomatic feat over disputed shoals that are within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Hence, there is no reason to gloat over reports the Philippines and the US are about to conclude an Enhanced Defense Cooperation agreement that would allow the US wider access to Philippine military bases. The US simply chose the correct timing – renewed tensions in the West Philippine Sea – to make it appear that her action is tied to the Philippines’ losing struggle to defend her sovereignty over the disputed territories.

At the moment at least, the US goal is only to contain China’s apparent ambition to build her own sphere of influence in the region as a rising world power. A military confrontation is not a likely scenario. Economic sanctions? Only if Coke and McDonald’s won’t mind closing shop in the world’s biggest market. To sum up the thinking among American foreign policy analysts, at this stage in their relationship the US regards China as neither friend nor enemy. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at hmcmordeno@gmail.com)

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