Pros and Cons of War with The Philippines

Posted: May 11, 2012 in Politics
Tags: , ,

I still remember very clearly sitting in a contemporary issues class during my senior year of high school in early 2003. To spark a discussion, the teacher asked who supported the imminent US invasion of Iraq. All 25 of the students raised their hands except two – myself, and a German exchange student.

The others listed plenty of reasons for their support: Saddam was a mad man, he was building weapons of mass destruction, he’d killed his own people and he may have had a hand in 9/11. I wouldn’t have been so bothered if I’d felt those were the real motives for nearly the entire class wanting war. But the flimsy and uninformed way many of them made their arguments suggested those reasons were just convenient excuses they were all too happy to latch on to. Quite simply, we had a badass military and it feels good to watch your country flex its muscles – especially when you have almost no chance of being personally affected by the collateral damage.

A few weeks ago I felt déjà vu from that day when I was speaking to a class of 20 Chinese grad students in Beijing. We got on the topic of the South China Sea and I expressed concern that a military conflict would break out there someday soon. One girl replied by saying, “I would welcome that.”

Other students chimed in, agreeing that they’d like to see China attack Vietnam or the Philippines. Some wanted to solidify territorial claims; others just wanted to “teach them a lesson” without specifying what exactly that lesson would be. If there were any dissenters in the class, they didn’t speak up.

Over the past few days tension has been rising between China and the Philippines over a disputed island. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has expressed its readiness for battle, and a slew of editorials have said things like “peace will be a miracle if [Filipino] provocation lasts.”

This is nothing new. Brinksmanship over Chinese territorial claims happens pretty regularly. But after speaking with that class and looking at other current events, this time feels especially dangerous. Let’s pretend for a moment that we’re the Chinese government and weigh the pros and cons of going to war with the Philippines – ordered from least to most compelling.


  • Loss of Chinese soldiers.
  • International condemnation – would seriously undermine China’s claim of a “Peaceful Rise.”
  • This would push China’s other neighbors (Vietnam, Japan, India, Korea) further into the arms of the US and encourage them to increase their defense capability.
  • Possibility of a direct US military intervention.


  • China would control the disputed island and surrounding waters.
  • It would send a message to other neighbors that China is serious about enforcing its territorial claims.
  • It would end the impression that China will back down from potential conflict with the US. This would be useful internationally – especially with regards to Taiwan – but even more so domestically, to show the people that the government has the backbone to confront the US.
  • It would greatly please the hawks in the military – a base which is absolutely essential for the CCP, as they’re the only real guarantors of continued authoritarian rule.
  • As with most any war, it would consolidate nationalistic support from the people firmly behind the party, which would be a godsend amidst turbulent domestic issues (ie – economic turndown, rough leadership transition).

China probably won’t act militarily in this particular situation, but if I’m in charge of the country right now, that pros list is looking more attractive by the day. As wild as this year has already been with the Bo Xilai and Chen Guangcheng incidents, it’s possible that we ain’t seen nothing yet. If any more destabilizing events take place in the lead-up to the power handover, it may become very tempting to finally step over the line from saber-rattling to actual military action in the South China Sea – a line many Chinese have been pressuring the government to cross for years.

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  1. beijingcream says:

    Well, you did attend high school in Kansas…

  2. foarp says:

    It requires two sides to have a war, and in this case I cannot see a likely situation arising in which both the Phillipinese and Chinese leadership both believe that they can fight a war and win. The only scenario in which this might happen is where the US allows the Phillipine leadership to believe they will support them but makes the Chinese leadership think that they won’t.

    Since my own country fought a war with Argentina in 1982 over a disputed archipelago (one with a pro-British native population and which had been continuously under British rule for at least 150 years) I might add a few other things worth considering. In the Falklands war, the war itself would not have happened had not the Argentines been under the mistaken impression that firstly the British would not fight for the islands, and that secondly the Americans would either remain neutral or support Argentina. This misimpression was caused by firstly the US’s out-and-out support for the Argentine Junta in its domestic disputes, and secondly by the UK’s failed attempts to get the Falkland’s population to agree to a transfer.

    Basically, since the CCP leadership has no desire to fight the USA at the present time, or cannot if it is sane, so long as the USA remains clear in its support for its regional allies, no war will occur. Should it attempt to play a clever diplomatic game in which it trades support for something from the Chinese side, then it had better make this clear to the Filipinos so that they will know to back down – again, so long as this is done, it is hard to think that war will occur. It is only if it unclear that war would become likely.

  3. […] War with Philippines watch: “Over the past few days tension has been rising between China and the Philippines over a disputed island. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has expressed its readiness for battle, and a slew of editorials have said things like ‘peace will be a miracle if [Filipino] provocation lasts.’ // This is nothing new. Brinksmanship over Chinese territorial claims happens pretty regularly. But after speaking with that class and looking at other current events, this time feels especially dangerous.” [Sinostand] […]

  4. Potomacker says:

    What tends to bother me the most is how much China and the USA are growing more similar. The classroom handraising and the thoughtless, triumphalist justifications add another justification.
    “Other students chimed in, agreeing that they’d like to see China attack Vietnam or the Philippines.”
    I wonder what the same students thought of, whether they even knew about, the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese war or of the lessons thereof.

    • sinostand says:

      I actually asked the same group about the 1979 war. They knew very little about it, but they agreed the official line is probably BS. That’s what was a bit off-putting about the class so gung-ho for war. They were very open-minded and liberal about just about everything else we talked about.

  5. foarp says:

    Reminds me of this piece by Mark Twain

  6. Topolcats says:

    I commend this article, its well written and factual.
    I also believe the Pros are better than the Cons as far options are concerned.
    I think political collateral damage will be limited?
    It is assumed Vietnam will side with the Americans? I do not believe this will be the case several reasons?
    Firstly lets assume for one impossible minute that the US wins a war against China.
    1.The question the Vietnamese will ask themselves is does it want a new era of neo colonialism from the American that saw the sacrifice of 4 million Vietnamese civilians,moreover the US even today is hell bent on destroying the Vietnamese politburo.
    2. China shares a border with Vietnam does it want millions of refugees on its door & the possibility of decades of Chinese payback for siding with America?
    I have met several members of the Vietnamese elites, they are Not stupid. Therefore I suggest beyond the sabre rattling. Vietnam,China in both the country’s best interest will cooperate & share amicably the oil wealth in the Spratly’s.
    In the end of the day its not about who actually owns the Spratly’s that count,it the oil wealth that really matters.
    Will Japan & Korea support the US in a war with China?
    I think this is the most interesting question to ponder?
    My view is they would rather the stupid Filipinos die (with both country’s limited military support)
    Japan having China as its number one trading partner, would suffer badly due to large amounts of Japanese factory’s in China not to mention raw material. Moreover they must know China, North Korea is itching for a chance to avenge ww2.
    South Korea would not have any appetite either, since a war with China means a war with North Korea.

    I do not suggest China enter into a shooting match with a savage backward country like the Philippines but if it happens?……… Proceed!
    The Americans are wishing it could happen to bolsters there position in the Asia pacific as guarantors of freedom blah blah blah!
    What is imperative for China is a total economic war on the Philippines.
    It should deport every Filipino working in HK.
    The Chinese market for domestics servants can be filled with Aya’s from Myanmar, among others.
    The Chinese must be absolutely ruthless in an economic war with the Philippines, it must use every available means to bring Manila to her knee’s

    • shizzo kai shin says:

      bring down to our knees are you taking drugs we’ll die but not on our knees dumb ass and we’ll kill you 1st

    • wacks says:

      This sounds ridiculous. China humiliating the Philippines? it’s overkill and the whole region hates China. If ever those greedy Chinese bastards attacks a poor, small country, i don’t know how devastating PR that’d be. Besides, the allies led by America won’t leave Asia’s predominantly Christian country on its own. China must learn to respect its neighbors and be prudent. No wonder the country is plagued by virus outbreaks and dissent.

    • wacks says:

      China only knows how to bully the weaker countries. Why doesn’t it pick somebody its own size? like Japan or India, or the United States? Im sure China learned its lessons well from the Persian Gulf War.

    • Meow Ming says:

      50 Cent Party troll alert !

    • crcky says:

      Dunno about that buddy but seems like people from Japan Korea and parts of China wanna live in Philippines.

  7. Neverbechinese says:

    To Topolcats:

    I think you are very close minded and very ignorant to think China should have the upperhand. They are the ones thinking of claiming others property. Why does China wait for too long to claim the Islands of West Philippines? Why didnt they had brouht that idea a long time ago? Whats these chinese monks up to?

    Anyways, Filipinos dont need chinese exports especially made cheap and counterfeits. Filipinos only need to pull themselves together, back each other and build the country together.

    Filipinos have NEVER bent their knees since the Magellan sat foot on Cebu, EVER!!!
    What makes you think the Filipinos would kneel now?

    Besides, Philippines is a great country. A very rich ones too. Unlike China, would enslave their own people and give the THE lowest wages on earth. Working more than 15 hours a day.
    Chinese way of having weired menus like, dog, cockroaches, snakes and other slimey “delicates” are way out to be called human.
    Chinese people dont look good either. The women alone are worth nothing but baby machines.

    Id say China and the Chinese should be wiped off the face of the world.

    • wacks says:

      That’s right. China is the most corrupt, brutal, and greedy country on God’s green Earth. They don’t deserve to rise in the world. they simply don’t. They act like the beasts of when the dark ages were here. it’s good America is pivoting towards the Asia Pacific and attempting to thwart the rise of the New evil empire.

  8. Neverbechinese says:


  9. ~RandomCommentator says:

    This is hopeless
    Philippines and China are fighting with rage and racism and soon it will be guns…
    I’ll just wait to see the chaotic result

  10. crcky says:

    China has only a few military. Vietnam has militerary plus people burning anti-Chinese businesses. Philippines has Military, Guerillas, and other Private Armed Groups. If they set foot in visayas and Mindanao,they may regret the trouble they’re getting into. Most people in Philippines are patient and will wait when oppurtunity comes their way.

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