The price of Performative Martyrdom

Manuel L. Quezon III
4 min readJun 22, 2024


China loses it and a Filipino loses a thumb for his country

The Parliament of the Streets: Chino Roces, Lorenzo Tañada and others face teargas and water cannon in the post-assassination era, the three years from 1983–1986

It would be inaccurate to suggest the Philippines is being reckless -as an aside, after the PR benefits given to both leaders by Ukrainian leader Zelensky dropping by Manila, President Marcos Jr. solemnly accepted his Ukrainian counterpart’s earnest invitation and then promptly fobbed off the actual visit to an underling. Too much of a tar baby.

This week’s The Long View:


Parliament of the seas

By: Manuel L. Quezon III@inquirerdotnet

Philippine Daily Inquirer / 04:30 AM June 19, 2024

The best general, to paraphrase Sun Tzu anachronistically, is the one who wins without having to fire a shot. In 1995–1996, what is now called the Third Taiwan Straits Crisis took place, which was a turning point in Chinese and American defense strategies. As I wrote elsewhere some years back, for China, what it did was embark on a crash course, with unlimited funding, to build up its missile, submarine, and aircraft capabilities, the idea being that any American technological superiority could be swarmed to death with a barrage of land, sea, and air-launched missiles, and eventually with a carrier battle group (or two, or three) of its own by Beijing. In the two decades since, we’ve seen this come to pass, including Chinese construction on sandbars and atolls to create the Chinese version of what the Americans once did in Manila Bay: turning islands into, essentially, concrete battleships-or today, concrete aircraft carriers or missile launcher bases-in the South China Sea (SCS) to swarm any hostile American fleet.

In the same very interesting interview, Alperovitch summed things up this way: “We’re not going to fight over some rocks in the South China Sea. We’re not going to fight over some rocks in the East China Sea. It is all about Taiwan.” He believes Americans should aim, not for regime change, but rather, containment of the Taiwan issue along the model of Berlin during the Cold War: it was the Soviet decision to build the Berlin Wall that severely downgraded the chances of conflict breaking out in what, up to then, been a nerve-wracking flashpoint between the two Superpowers. This, he believes, is the only way stability will return to the region.

What the Australian defense analyst Hugh White has written bears repeating: “This brings us to the heart of America’s policy problem in the SCS. To understand that problem we have to be clear about nature of the contest there. Beijing is not just trying to take control of an important body of water. It is trying to take control of East Asia. It hopes to use the SCS dispute to do that by demonstrating there that America is no longer willing to risk a military confrontation with China to sustain its own leading position in the Asian strategic order, and thereby concede that leadership to China.”

I’ve pointed something else White wrote: repeated war-gaming by the Americans, of a conflict erupting in the SCS, inevitably ends with America backing out of a fight. The reason for this is that however they game it, politically speaking, no American president in the war games, ends up deciding it is worth risking American lives over the future of SCS.

Important readings:

The question of course is whether these goings-on run the risk of escalating out of control, to the extent it drags in the United States into a potential shooting war with China. A very recent answer as to why there seems a slim chance of this, led me to refer, in my column, to Cold War II Grand Strategy Dmitri Alperovitch on how to compete with China, which you really have to read from beginning to end, then read again, because so much is packed in it. Among his (other) most interesting points: his views on American military procurement; the focus of American policy on preventing Chinese access to advanced chips but leaving China in a strong position when it comes to making all the other chips the world needs; his views on AI and the need to view its technology as an American state secret (To zero in further on Alperovitch’s thinking, see his article, A Chinese economic blockade of Taiwan would fail or launch a war) .

On a related note, in the same place, is Kotkin on China: Communism’s Achilles’ Heel, Deterrence, and Learning from the USSR (he is not just the biographer of Stalin, his scholarship encompasses Russia’s grappling with its place in the world to the present), in which he discusses what he says is Xi Jinpin’s “life project” to prevent, at all costs, any chance China will go the way of the defunct USSR.

Then read the provocative take of Niall Ferguson: We’re All Soviets Now, in which he argues that in Cold War II, the role of the USSR is being played by… the USA.

Originally published at



Manuel L. Quezon III

Columnist, Philippine Daily Inquirer. Editor-at-large Views strictly mine. I have a newsletter, blog, podcast, and Patreon.