By Alejandro Del Rosario
Manila Standard Today
Lest we are lulled into a false sense of security and delude ourselves that quiet diplomacy is working, let us be wary of reports Chinese ships have withdrawn from Pag-asa in the Spratly group of islands.
Remember it was Chairman Mao Zedong who said “To take one step forward, take two steps backward.” This was the principle borrowed by General Nguyen Vo Giap, in leading Vietnam’s guerrilla warfare to defeat the armies of two world powers, France and the United States.
Global alliances have shifted with Vietnam embracing former foe US, and confronting China, its former ally, because of Beijing’s claim over the entire South China Sea. The Vietnamese had fought a naval battle with the Chinese in 1988 in which they lost ships and more than 70 men in its defense of the Paracels which Hanoi claims as part of its territory.
Despite the regrettable failure of Asean to forge a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea during a foreign ministerial meeting in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh , the Philippines should find common cause with Vietnam which has a long history of fighting and winning against foreign powers.
News that China has established a military garrison in the Paracels which the Chinese now calls Sansha administrative commission has sent ripples of fear among the other claimants. Except for the Philippines, security measures and defenses have been stepped up by Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan on the islets and reefs they occupy.
The Chinese pullout of its flotilla of 20 fishing boats, except for two, was reported by the AFP’s Western Command (Wescom) over the weekend. A Philippine surveillance plane spotted the Chinese fishing boats barely five kilometers from Pag-asa. The Chinese boats, except for two, left after harvesting coral reefs and endangered sea turtles. The Philippine government should internationalize this environmental plunder by asking global organizations like Greenpeace to step in and denounce the Chinese’s wanton (not wonton) disregard of the eco-system in the West Philippine Sea.
In view of China’s refusal to recognize the United Nations Law of the Sea and to submit itself to arbitration by the United Nations Tribunal on the Law of the Sea where the Philippines has brought its case, expect the Chinese to fortify their illegal claim by building more garrisons and airstrips on every piece of land above water in the disputed territories. Beijing has no other agenda than to control the seabed’s untapped oil and mineral-rich resources. If the Chinese gain control of the entire South China Sea, its vast fishing ground would also help feed its population of 1.3 billion. Already, they are doing this and depriving communities along the coast of the West Philippine Sea of their livelihood to fish in Philippine waters.
Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, former Armed Forces Chief of Staff, has broached the idea to ask the UN to form a peacekeeping force in the South China Sea to prevent a shooting war. Malacanang was quick to dismiss the proposal and said it is still opting for diplomacy to work. The Palace should consider all options to internationalize the issue; perhaps Biazon’s suggestion may not be such a bad idea after all.
If it’s any comfort, President Aquino in his recent State of the Nation Address said: “If someone enters your backyard and claims it’s theirs, will you give away what is rightfully yours?” Brave words, but without the military hardware, it’s nothing but hollow, empty rhetoric. Our weak response has only emboldened Beijing to advance its expansionist design in the region. Like the bully it is, China kept silent when Russia fired shots at Chinese ships intruding in its territorial waters.
The escalation of tension in the South China Sea is now the subject of various foreign policy think tanks. US Admiral Samuel J. Locklear in a recent testimony before the Senate foreign relations committee took to task the US for failing to sign UNCLOS, reminding Washington that five of its seven US allies are in Southeast Asia.
“It is not reassuring for our allies not to know how the US will react in keeping SCS navigational lanes open and to check Chinese aggression in the region,” Admiral Locklear said as he urged the US to sign UNCLOS. Not signing the UN treaty certainly diminishes the US role in the resolution of the conflict.