Confronting the inevitable

Such a geopolitical play arising from a Taiwan conflict will inevitably involve us.

Looks like confronting the inevitable increasingly informs Mr. Marcos Jr.’s current thinking on China.

Consider this week’s pact between the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency to secure the nation’s crucial power grid against cyberattacks in the event hostilities erupt between the country and China.

Sealed in the presence of Mr. Marcos Jr., the pact — largely interpreted as a reaction to China’s aggressive tactics in the West Philippine Sea — can also be seen as a security contingency in face of the tensions over Taiwan.

The critical security significance of the NGCP cannot be understated. As the sole operator of the country’s power grid, the company is 40 percent owned by the Chinese government through the State Grid Corporation of China or SGCC.

Worse, SGCC is NGCP’s technical partner, making it the key player in the power firm’s technical operations. Such an inordinate role has raised fears about NGCP’s ability to fend off Chinese cyberattacks if armed hostilities erupt over Taiwan.

Crippling a country’s power grid through cyberattacks isn’t unusual in modern war. In this day and age physical distance is longer equivalent to safety.

Even before Russia invaded Ukraine, for instance, Ukrainians took great pains to tightly secure once again its power infrastructure after previous Russian cyberattacks tested Ukraine’s resolve with unprecedented cyberattacks on its power grid system years before the actual invasion.

But why are there fears of cyberattacks on the country arising from military conflict in nearby Taiwan?

Many analysts — and increasingly including top Filipino defense and diplomatic officials — believe it is inevitable that armed conflict in Taiwan will drag this country into a major armed conflict involving superpowers.

Various scenarios, in fact, have it the country will be on the frontlines within 24 hours of hostilities breaking out in the Taiwan Strait.

Mr. Marcos Jr. himself acknowledged this when he recently said, “When we look at the situation in the area, especially the tensions in the Taiwan Strait, we can see that just by our geographical location, should there, in fact, be conflict in that area… it’s very hard to imagine a scenario where the Philippines will not somehow get involved.”

Here, it’s not only because of the country’s proximity to Taiwan but also because of the conventional strategic maritime containment strategy — the so-called “first island chain” strategy.

Concocted in 1951 by the Americans, the island chain strategy — involving three island chains in the Pacific — was originally conceived to contain Russia but is now generally meant to contain China.

The “first island chain” is the first line of containment. It comprises the Kuril Islands, the Japanese archipelago, the Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan, northwest Philippines and ends in Borneo.

China, however, will face crucial chokepoints if it tries to break through this “first island chain.”

Not least of these crucial chokepoints is the Luzon Strait, just off Batanes.

The Luzon Strait is also critical for another geopolitical reason — controlling it symbolizes naval dominance and will allow China the ability to project power beyond Taiwan.

On this, American naval strategist James Holmes says, “Regaining Taiwan would expedite Chinese military access to the strait — its outlet to the Pacific Ocean.”

This is so because the Luzon Strait “is home to the Bashi Channel, an undersea canyon separating Taiwan from the Batanes Islands. The channel is one of the widest and deepest of the narrow seas piercing the first island chain. This maritime junction between the South China Sea and the Philippine Sea thus looks like an optimal point for PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) Navy submarines to break out of the China seas, and disappear into the Pacific depths almost immediately afterward,” says Holmes.

Such a geopolitical play arising from a Taiwan conflict will inevitably involve us, leaving us with no other option but to beef up our security alliances with other powers to dissuade China from its designs on Taiwan.


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