In light of the recent vote by the population of Puerto Rico in favor of becoming a full-fledged state, the prospect of the United States of America continuing with its history of admitting new states is once again becoming a reality. However, now that the West has been “won”, outside of Puerto Rico and much less populous U.S. holdings like Guam and American Samoa, and outside of simply taking land by force, the only way of admitting new states would be by annexing countries with existing civil governments through legitimate democratic referendums. In the past, there were movements to legally annex all or part of Mexico and Canada, but both of those countries are so proud of NOT being part of the U.S. that the idea would be laughable at best. There are other possibilities, such as Taiwan: when I was there, I met people who seriously intended to make that island of over 23 million inhabitants into the U.S. state of Formosa. However, despite the fact that the Taiwanese tend to like us more than most, that movement is still very small, and even if it were not, by holding and honoring a referendum in Taiwan to that effect, we would basically be declaring war on China. After Puerto Rico becomes the 51st state (if that ever actually happens), the most likely candidate of becoming the 52nd would be the Republic of the Philippines. Of course, this is strictly theoretical and not very likely to happen, but let’s consider the aspects and implications of the possibility a bit.
Why the Philippines?
Many people in the U.S. do not even know it, but we once controlled the Philippines. In the Spanish-American War of 1898, we took Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines from Spain. While we quickly granted sovereignty to Cuba, to our shame, we immediately forsook our anti-colonial roots and tried to colonize the Philippines. (One excuse for this was our intent to “Christianize” them, even though they were already Catholic.) This led to a series of armed conflicts between our military and Philippine rebels. However, the decades-long American occupation of the Philippines came abruptly to an end as a result of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. In short, we told the Filipinos that we would leave them alone in the future if they would help us fight the Japanese.
Despite this not-so-glamorous history, we currently do have good relations with the Philippines, largely as a result of our cooperation in the Second World War. Also, there is perhaps an even stronger cultural connection there than there is with Puerto Rico: roughly 70% of Filipinos speak English respectably well, compared to about 15% of Puerto Ricans. This English proficiency has led to a high level of cultural connection, with Filipinos appreciating American movies, shows, books, and music even more than people in most other countries. Add to this the fact that the Constitution of the Philippines is written in English and was based upon the Constitution of the United States. As candidates for statehood go, no one else can compare.
(Considering this possibility, some will argue that all we did in our westward expansion was cut up land taken from the natives rather than admitting sovereign states. However, this is not actually true: Texas, California, and Hawaii were all sovereign states prior to being annexed.)
Obviously, there are various forces that would discourage such a massive annexation. Here are some of the main ones:
- Public opinion: Put simply, public opinion in both the Philippines and the United States would most likely be against the measure in the beginning. Despite the friendly feelings that exist, Filipinos still remember that they were once treated as a U.S. colony – with little hope of ever becoming a full-fledged state at the time, despite their population. As for folks in the U.S., the main issue would probably be the expected economic burden, which I will talk more about in a moment.
- China: The world’s #2 power is currently involved in border disputes with pretty much everyone it could possibly have a border dispute with. The Republic of the Philippines is included in this list, with both countries trying to lay claim to valuable sea property. Long story short, with quite enough tensions between the U.S. and China as things are, we are not be in any hurry to get into an actual border dispute with China. Also, China just might not be all that crazy about our national population suddenly increasing by over 90 million right on its doorstep.
- Possible inner turmoil: As things are, the Filipinos have to deal with Islamic separatists killing people and generally wreaking havoc, and those problems would become our problems. (One quick fix would be to grant independence to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.)
- Economic disparity: On average, Filipinos currently live on about one tenth of what we live on in the United States. Of course, making the Philippines a state or states would immediately lead to all kinds of issues such as whether or not the same minimum wage applies, the extent to which Filipinos can collect on federal benefits, etc. Basically, all of the current debates about economic equity and government intervention would suddenly get multiplied.
- Sharing problems: With our political dysfunction, economic malaise, and fiscal idiocy, we would not exactly be asking the Republic of the Philippines to become a part of a city on a hill. We would have to fix some of our own problems first.
- Our name: We get away with calling ourselves the United States of America even though we have non-American places like Guam and American Samoa under wing because they are very small and not full-blown states. With the Philippines joining the club, though, we would not be able to get away with that any longer: we would have to change our name to the United States of America and Asia or something to that effect. (And I’m pretty sure that would only contribute to domestic angst over the issue.)
It isn’t all bad, though. There are many benefits to be had, even if this scenario is impossible.
For the Philippines…
- Despite the problems that exist in the U.S., our government is still stabler and less corrupt than that of the Philippines, believe it or not. In many ways, we might be able to improve things there in a relatively short time.
- Many people throughout the world complain that it is not fair that they cannot vote in U.S. Presidential elections, as the decision affects them too. Well, Filipinos would gain that ability. (And wow! I think we would see a big change in the way elections play out here!)
- With virtually all political and economic barriers between the two countries suddenly disappearing, both public and private investment in the Philippines would drastically increase, resulting in much-needed infrastructure improvements in a relatively short amount of time.
For the United States…
- Let’s face it: having anyone vote to become part of the United States again would be a huge moral victory.
- While suddenly adding over 90 million individuals to your population certainly comes with a lot of potential problems, it also makes you more powerful as a nation.
- Just as cutting down the economic barriers would be good for the Philippines, it would be good for us too: we would be able to benefit from cheap English-speaking labor and rich natural resources. It would also generally make it easier for us to invest in this quickly growing economy – which could possibly start growing at an even brisker pace if the annexation would have a direct effect on corruption, etc.
So…maybe this will be something to think about once we have decided to pay down our debt, get along with people who feel differently about things, and not completely self-destruct as a country.