Waco in Headlines for all the Wrong Reasons…Again

The Texan city of Waco once again finds itself the centre of national attention after nine people were killed following a shoot-out between rival motorcycle gangs and local police officers. 192 people have subsequently been arrested as a result of the incident. In the aftermath of this particularly bloody event the only consolation appears to be that no innocent bystanders were hurt.

Members of the Cossacks motorcycle gang (pictured) reportedly squared off against the feared Bandidos Source: The Independent
Members of the Cossacks motorcycle gang (pictured) reportedly squared off against the feared Bandidos
Source: The Independent

It is just over twenty-two years since the infamous Waco Siege occurred at the Mount Carmel Center just outside of the city. Over a fifty-one day period, various federal agents and police forces attempted to gain access to the ranch and apprehend members of a Branch Dividian Sect, in particular its cultish leader David Koresh. Attempts to draw the group out by using tear gas coincided with the start of a fire that ultimately killed seventy-six people. The incident has remained steeped in controversy.

There is some irony in Waco returning to the headlines at this specific moment. The siege of 1993 was cited as a primary motivation of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, whose 1995 destruction of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building remains the worst case of domestic terrorism in US history. McVeigh was subsequently sentenced to death and executed in 2001 at the United States Penitentiary, Terre Haute in Indiana.

168 people were killed by the devastating car bombing in Oklahoma City
168 people were killed by the devastating car bombing in Oklahoma City

Now another domestic terrorist – Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev – has just be sentenced to die for his crimes. He will presumably be executed at Terre Haute too. Whilst he has no apparent link whatsoever to Waco, the timing of this latest incident and Tsarnaev’s recent sentencing are a reminder of both the Waco Siege and the Oklahoma City Bombing it inspired.

It is an unfortunate quirk of history that Waco’s residents will not want to see repeated.

 

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Japan, the Philippines and the USA: a unlikely triumvirate facing up to Chinese expansionism

Japan and the Philippines have carried out their first ever bilateral naval exercises. The location? The South China Sea, one of the most bitterly contested waterways in the world, through which vast quantities of maritime traffic pass and under which substantial energy resources are thought to lie.

Japan and the Philippines are undertaking surprise naval drills Source: Pinoy News
Japan and the Philippines are undertaking surprise naval drills
Source: Pinoy News

It appears that China’s well-publicised land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea have tilted their regional competitors towards decisive action. Whilst the Japanese-Philippine naval drills do not provide an existential threat to the Chinese, they are heavily symbolic.

Japan has long been distrusted in the East Asia region, primarily because of its aggressive wartime invasion and occupation of most of the continent. Indeed, the Philippines was overrun by the Imperial Japanese Army between December 1941 and May 1942. A large defence force – which included American combat units under Douglas MacArthur – was unable to prevent a swift Japanese victory. More than 25,000 were killed on the defensive side.

Despite a fierce guerrilla campaign, Japan occupied the Philippines for the next three years. As in the other countries it invaded, this occupation often took a rather brutal form; arbitrary arrests, executions and the use of ‘comfort women’ proliferated, increasing the hatred felt by the Filipinos towards the Japanese. These actions have not been forgotten and the two countries have experienced tense relations since the end of WWII, despite having a mutual ally in the USA.

Children murdered by the retreating Japanese in 1945. The 'Manila Massacre' claimed tens of thousands of lives Source: Documenting Reality
Children murdered by the retreating Japanese in 1945. The ‘Manila Massacre’ claimed tens of thousands of lives
Source: Documenting Reality

That Japan and the Philippines now appear willing to set aside their historical grievances and provide a bulwark against Chinese expansionism is a hugely significant step. Japan is seeking to revise its constitution to allow greater freedom to undertake military operations. Simultaneously, the USA has mooted the possibility of sending naval vessels and aircraft to the South China Sea in order to prevent a restriction on navigation.

At the same time, Vietnam – invaded by Japan during WWII and a former American enemy – has begun its own land reclamation projects around the island’s it controls in the region. These actions are sending a clear signal to Beijing: we are ready to unite and oppose your unilateral shifting of the geostrategic balance of power.

The South China Sea has long been seen as a potential flashpoint in East Asia. Yet, because of the many enmities between the regional states – and the failure of ASEAN to achieve a consensus on the issue – nothing has been done to prevent tensions rising. As in Ukraine, where Russia has been getting away with blatant war-mongering and undermining the sovereignty of another state, China has been similarly bullish in staking its territorial claims.

PHILIPPINES-CHINA-MARITIME-DIPLOMACY-MILITARY

Whilst the Chinese actions are not having the same immediate and devastating effect as those of Russia in Ukraine, the potential future ramifications are massive. With the US ‘pivot’ to East Asia in progress, and smaller states willing to overlook issues of history to side with Japan, a dangerous balance of power and hedging of bets is underway.

Watch this space; we have not heard the last of the South China Sea dispute.