By Alejandro Del Rosario
Manila Standard Today
The diplomatic event held at the Manila Hotel last Thursday had all the pomp and trappings of a propitious occasion. The day marked the 37th anniversary of the opening of diplomatic relations between the Philippine and China. It was also the 11th anniversary of Philippines-China “Friendship Day.”
The twin occasions also followed the country’s 114th year of Philippine Independence on June 12. Gracing the occasion were President Benigno Aquino III as the keynote speaker, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, Chinese Ambassador Ma Kequing and prominent members of the Filipino-Chinese business community including taipans Lucio Tan and Manila Hotel owner Emilio Yap
It was de riguer diplomatic event as such occasions go, replete with cocktails, tete-a-tetes, and the usual after-dinner speeches But the mood and the atmosphere of the occasion was cast by the long shadow of the standoff at Scarborough Shoal.
Ambassador Kequing read a message to the audience from Chinese President Hu JinTao conveying friendship, peace and prosperity to the Filipino people. It was of course well received by the taipans who have sizable investments in the two countries with long historical, cultural, economic and political ties.
It has been said that diplomacy is the art of lying for one’s country. Beijing’s envoy to Manila was simply doing her job and was only the messenger of the mandarins in Beijing.
President Aquino, in his response to the Chinese president’s message, made clear in no uncertain terms that he has a ”sworn oath under the Constitution to defend the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The President said the Philippines is pursuing a diplomatic solution to the Scarborough standoff and for the moment will “agree to disagree.”
China’s message of “peace, friendship and prosperity” sounds hollow in light of continued provocations in Panatag Shoal (internationally called Scarborough Shoal)
The latest incidents of Chinese provocations in Scarborough reported by Filipinos monitoring the situation in the shoal included the fly-by of an alleged Chinese fighter jet, followed by two helicopters harassing Philippine civilian vessels in the area.
Asked to comment on the Chinese intrusion into Philippine air space, Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said the fighter jet’s “expeditious and continuous flight over an exclusive economic zone is allowed under UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea).”
Is an economic zone (124 miles off Zambales) claimed by the Philippines not PHL air space?
When I was ambassador assigned to Hungary, Poland, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia, the Embassy received instructions from the DFA telling us to request overflight permission from those countries’ foreign ministries advising them an aircraft carrying the President of the Republic and party were passing through their airspace. This was done to avoid any incident that the aircraft would be shot down as a hostile intruder. The Embassy requested overflight authority during frequent trips of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to Europe because the chartered PAL plane had to fly over the airspace of those four countries en route to Spain and Portugal.
There is another disturbing news from Agence France Presse that China shipped missile launch vehicles to North Korea last year. If true, this is a violation of a UN resolution banning such exports to the rogue state. North Korea’s successive leaders are seen as loose nuclear warheads.
The AFP report was based on Japanese government sources that four giant trucks capable of transporting and launching ballistic missiles were shipped by a Chinese firm last August. The story also came out in the Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s leading newspaper.
Meanwhile, Myanmar Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin is here on an official visit.. Maung Lwin met with President Aquino and Secretary del Rosario during which they discussed diplomatic and economic ties.
Myanmar is still trying to find its moorings as a free, democratic member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The former British colony known as Burma has opened itself to political reforms and needs the support of Asean as it struggles with its strife-torn Rakhine region, which is now seeing violence between Buddhists and Muslims.
The nine-nation group is presently drafting a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea. Manila needs the support of Myanmar in this undertaking. Recall that Myanmar received a lot of economic aid from China when the country was still suffering from economic sanctions imposed by UN states for political repression.
(Published in the Manila Standard Today newspaper on /2012/June/16)