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US military-led humanitarian intervention in the Philippines: a message to China

Typhoon Haiyan, or Yolanda as it’s known in the Philippines, completely devastated parts of eastern Visayas in the central Philippines in a matter of hours. More than 4.2 million people have been affected…

The US relief effort includes a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, 307 marines and US$20 million in aid. EPA/US Marine Corps /Lance Corporal Anne K. Henry

Typhoon Haiyan, or Yolanda as it’s known in the Philippines, completely devastated parts of eastern Visayas in the central Philippines in a matter of hours. More than 4.2 million people have been affected across 36 provinces. 4500 are confirmed dead at time of publication with many unaccounted for. An estimated 670,000 people are displaced.

As the true extent of the devastation emerges, the international community has rallied to help. So far Australia had pledged A$30 million; the UK £10m million; the European Union €10 million; Japan $10 million and 25 emergency medical personnel; New Zealand NZ$2.15 million; and $100,000 each from Taiwan and Vietnam. China upped its initial $100,000 commitment with an additional A$1.75 million of relief supplies.

Only Australia rivals the United States’ response. On November 11, following a request from the Philippines government, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington – in Hong Kong for a port visit – and several other US Navy ships “to make best speed for the Republic of the Philippines” to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster support.

The initial focus of the US military-led relief effort includes surface and airborne maritime search and rescue, medium-heavy helicopter lift support and several aircraft with vertical takeoff and landing capabilities designed to operate in harsh environments. It also includes 307 members of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade deployed from Marine Corps Air Station, Futenma, Japan.

The US is also giving US$20m through USAID.

The US has made a strong committment to its Pacific ally. EPA/Francis R. Malasig

The Philippines is one of the United States' six allies in the Asia-Pacific, along with Australia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand. The sheer magnitude of the military-led US response to the crisis leaves no ambiguity about the significance America places on these strategic regional alliances.

During Hagel’s visit to the Philippines in August, he said:

Our close ties to the Philippines have been forged through a history of shared sacrifice and common purpose, and continuing to strengthen the close partnership between our nations is an important part of America’s long-term strategy of rebalancing in the Asia-Pacific.

The US is currently negotiating an agreement allowing it to position military equipment and rotate more personnel into the Philippines, while avoiding the contentious issue of re-establishing American bases in the country.

This comes amid growing tensions between the Philippines and China over areas in the South China Sea claimed by both countries and moves by the United States to ensure it retains influence in the region as China’s grows.

On November 7, Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of USPACOM (the US Pacific Command), said that as part of its extensive regional engagement, the United States was looking for access that would enable it to help the Philippines in its defence as well as to aid in responding to disasters.

Locklear, who was responding to questions at a news conference, reiterated that America would not reopen bases in the Philippines. The arrangement under current negotiation, however, would allow US forces to visit for longer periods and be stationed on Philippine military bases.

More than 4.2 million people have been affected by the typhoon. EPA/Jay Rommell Labra

The US has already used its former naval base in Subic Bay, a special economic zone in the Philippines catering to private investors for ship visits. Last year a subsidiary of the US defense contractor Huntington Ingalls Industries set up an operation to service US Navy nuclear powered ships, suggesting that the American presence in the area would grow.

The US Navy rotational presence is likely to follow the model used in the southern Philippines by the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines, comprising about 500 US military personal specialising on counter-terrorism. This was officially considered temporary but has been in operation since 2002.

And in moves likely to unnerve China, the Philippines is constructing a naval port in Oyster Bay’s cove, a deep natural harbour that opens directly on the South China Sea only a short distance from the contested Spratly Islands. The US is also planning to build advance command posts nearby on Palawan to monitor the South China Sea.

In the midst of this humanitarian tragedy, Typhoon Haiyan has delivered the means for the US to show solidarity to its Pacific ally. It has also allowed the US to send a clear message to China that it has the muscle needed to intervene at short notice in the region to protect its national interest if it feels it necessary.

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13 Comments sorted by

  1. John Crest

    logged in via email

    Disgusting American imperialism. How dare they help people!

  2. Dale Bloom


    It is debatable whether or not the US needed to carry out so much bombing of the Philippines during WWII.

    Manilla was one of the most beautiful cities in the world before WWII, and was hardly touched by the Japanese when they invaded, but pulverised and almost totally destroyed by relentless and continuous bombing from US forces when they attacked.

    The Philippines may have never recovered, and much of the poverty currently in the Philippines could be a result of that bombing and destruction by US forces.

    1. Steve Hindle

      logged in via email

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      It is a bit much blaming any of the current poverty in the Philippines on WW2 bombing. The US Air force left Tokyo a smouldering wreck and Germany cities didn't look very healthy either; both countries made incredible recoveries. It is more likely the inability to control corruption that has held back the Philippines.

    2. Dale Bloom


      In reply to Steve Hindle

      It is often thought that Manilla and Warsaw were the capital cities most destroyed by bombing during WWII, and Poland has not been that economic ever since.

      It is has also been thought that the US carried out relentless bombing of Manilla for months, not just to chase the Japanese out of the Philippines, but to bomb the Philippines into submission, and enable US military bases to be established in the Philippines.

      In effect, the US wanted the Philippines as a satellite state of the US.

    3. alfred venison

      records manager (public secotr)

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      you forgot about berlin, Dale, and rotterdam. does that mess with your theory? -a.v.

    4. Dale Bloom


      In reply to alfred venison

      Not really.

      The US could have bypassed the Philippines, and in fact they were few Japanese there.

      There have been people living in Manilla who said the Japanese were doing very little damage or harm, until the US arrived.

      Here are some picture of what was left, before it was all bulldozed into the ground.

      And then the US built bases such as this

    5. Steve Hindle

      logged in via email

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      "In effect, the US wanted the Philippines as a satellite state of the US."
      The problem with this theory is that the Philippines already had been administered as a territory of the USA until 1935. They then changed the status to the Commonwealth of the Philippines as a way of preparing the country for independence.
      The US could have by-passed the Philippines but General Douglas MacArthur managed to push his own agenda and out manoeuvred the politicians in Washington.

    6. Dale Bloom


      In reply to Steve Hindle

      Yes, and the end result was that the US eventually had bases in Japan, and also the Philippines.

      After the world lost one of the most beautiful cities ever built.

  3. Tony Xiao

    retired teacher

    It appears that not only main-stream media can politicize a humanitarian disaster to garner support for futher American military engagement in SE Asia

  4. R. Ambrose Raven


    Yes, but. While the U.S. is clearly providing considerable disaster relief assistance, there are much wider and more important issues that will never be met by these high-cost photo opportunities:
    ....1... the obvious shortcomings in the model of economic development being used by the Philippines; indeed "free" trade agreements probably entrench poverty.
    ....2... endemic corruption.
    ....3... anthropogenic global warming, which causes both general damage (e.g. food production) and specific damage (more extreme cyclones - yes, there is a link).
    ....4... indifference to provision of useful but robust infrastructure.

  5. R. Ambrose Raven


    What is needed is a very different structure - regrettably one that the formerly socialist China is as unlikely to provide as Imperial and hegemonic America.

    What is needed, for us and our own region, is an economic and social relationship with the littoral states (Solomons, PNG, etc) that combines an enforcement of political and economic discipline (as distinct from the prevailing culture of brazen theft and bribery) plus trade relations with Australia that greatly increase employment and income…

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    1. Fabian Sweeney


      In reply to R. Ambrose Raven

      Dale for once I agree with your prevocative comments especially the (coward MacArthur controlled) unnecessary bombing of Manila. The Kanos ( i.e. Pinoy for Americanos) are the ex colonists who imposed a sad marketing dictatorial culture on Pinoys. That cancerous culture survives amongst a very friendly happy lot.

      Filipinos, "came out of 300 years in a Spanish Convent into 50 years in Hollywood", to quote a sad shibboleth. With our Australian Defense Force now training Filipino commandos which was too well publicized we join the Kanos.

      I would not care to go back to the bush (boondooks or bukid) of National Peoples Army, or Moro territory, in Mindanao of the 1980s or 2013s offering livestock advice & Oz loans. They will be much angrier witht Ozs. Probably rightly so.

  6. Terence Yeo

    PhD Candidate

    Was the choice of a Singaporean C130H for the picture deliberate?