THE reckless bleating of our defense and foreign affairs secretaries over alleged Chinese maritime militias in a reef we lost control of decades ago risks a scenario in which China may well decide to cancel the donation of its anti-coronavirus vaccines.
Fortunately, we have a president more intelligent and calmer than these two. Duterte issued a statement the other day that in effect reminded everyone that we are getting vaccines from China. These vaccines have have become in extremely short supply because the US and the rich nations have hoarded or cornered it. His statement was a message to China that he will make sure his officials don’t do anything further to risk a Chinese move to stop the supply.
I sure hope so. After a year of suffering these lockdowns, and with several friends taken down by the coronavirus, I want my vaccine now as of this hour, especially since I am in that high-risk category. What right do these officials have to risk, even by a long shot, my not being able to get it? Rich sinophobes like Albert del Rosario and Antonio Carpio, I bet, will be able to get or have already gotten their vaccines. I am waiting in a long, long line.
Make no mistake: I would be beating my chest and pulling my hair, screaming that we cannot exchange our sovereignty even for life-saving vaccines. But there are facts which incontrovertibly show that the two officials’ allegations are baseless and outrightly irrational, concocted by the US government entities intent to drive a wedge between us and China, its rival as a superpower, and plain irrational. And they make it an issue at this time of the pandemic?
Vietnam and China have controlled Julian Felipe Reef (internationally known as Whitsun Reef) starting in 1974, with the former having four installations there, and China two. The two countries have claimed sovereignty even before World War 2 (and even much earlier, really) over it as part of their archipelagos, which the Chinese call Nansha Qundao and the Vietnamese Trurong Sa.
The reef is within the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) that the strongman Marcos in 1978 carved out of the Spratlys archipelago. Marcos had his Navy and Marines occupy seven islands and islets in the reef, but neither he nor succeeding administrations occupied or attempted to occupy Julian Felipe Reef. The Aquino 3rd government junked that sovereignty claim and instead asserted that we have rights to it as it is within our exclusive economic zones (EEZ). The extent of this zone can be determined using the ‘baselines’ identified in the 2009 baselines law – but we haven’t passed a law to do that.
Aquino through an administrative order in 2012 named “the Luzon Sea as well as the waters around, within and adjacent to the Kalayaan Island Group and Bajo de Masinloc as the West Philippine Sea.” How far “around” or “adjacent”? The order didn’t specify. We don’t even know the extent of this West Philippine Sea.
That propaganda thrust however was clever as many have come to believe that we have “sovereign waters” since time immemorial that we must defend.
The reality though is that in that “West Philippine Sea,” Vietnam had occupied starting 1974 islands and reefs on which they built fortifications, the Chinese seven starting in 1988, and Malaysia five starting in 1983. While we have occupied eight features there thanks to Marcos in the 1970s, it is hardly a “Philippine sea.”
That Julian Felipe Reef is ours is as much a delusion as claiming that Sabah still belongs to us.
Chinese and Vietnamese fishing vessels have been using the reef for decades as refuge against storm and tidal surges. Secretary Delfin Lorenzana screamed to the world to claim that Chinese maritime militias have swarmed the reef only after he was fed the fabrication on March 19 by the US intelligence services.
Instead of letting the foreign affairs department undertake diplomacy to get the Chinese to explain or even ask it to have the “militias” or fishermen leave the reef, he screamed to the world that the Chinese bully was invading our reef with maritime militias, never mind that nobody knows what they look like. Instead of undertaking diplomacy, the foreign affairs secretary Teodoro Locsin joined the defense secretary in screaming against China.
What did they think they could accomplish with that? They know that China won’t bend to “international opinion,” which after all is molded by an ideologically-driven US media. Did they, as an English-language paper would have it, want themselves portrayed as patriots boldly defending the country against a “bully,” so much so that they’ll get to be so popular that Duterte would consider them as senatorial candidates in 2022? Indeed that whacky anti-Duterte group “1Sambayan”, set up for the 2022 elections yesterday issued a statement supporting Lorenzana and Locsin. Duterte should free them to join the opposition.
Disputes between nations are not publicized immediately, as these would risk nationalistic knee-jerk reactions among the two peoples, which force the countries’ leaders into a corner in which they have to adopt a hardline stance.
Unfortunately for us, this foolishness by our two officials were made in the midst of a pandemic, which recent weeks showed can really be stopped only through vaccines. Unfortunately for us, the richest countries in the world, especially the.US, have hoarded or cornered the vaccine supply.
As a result of the pandemic’s surge worldwide in the past month, vaccine-producing countries have banned their exports. India last week banned the export of the Indian-manufactured vaccines that we ordered, with the 30 million already contracted suspended, worried that they need all the vaccines they need for their 1.4 billion population.
Other vaccine producers have reportedly blocked exports, without formally announcing it. Europe, UK and Australia are squabbling among themselves to corner vaccine supplies.
Forget the US as a source of vaccines. A recent Vanity Fair article disclosed that the Trump administration’s “ Operation Warp Speed” to develop the vaccines got the manufacturers to agree that they cannot sell doses to any foreign country.
The reality is that whether you like China or not, it is going to be the biggest source of vaccines for us and other countries that do not produce vaccines. This will be the Chinese Huawei, Vivo and Oppo burying Samsung in the vaccine business.
According to a Reuters’ analysis, because China started as early as July last year to develop its vaccines, and because of its centralized government, it can produce as much as 4 billion vaccine doses by the end of the year. If its government so decides, it can sell or donate this to other countries, as it already has controlled the epidemic, with even Wuhan, which was its epicenter, practically virus-free now.
China has blocked the virus’ spread largely through social restrictions and its citizens’ compliance with regulations like mask-wearing, in contrast to the US and the West that are relying on mass vaccination. This is attested to by the fact that China has vaccinated only 4 percent of its population, compared to 15 percent in the US now.
And what will they do to the 4 billion doses they can produce, which the companies must make and sell for them to be profitable or at least recover their investment?
But even if President Xi Jinping himself has committed to Duterte to supply the country with the vaccines it is able to do, China’s government, despite its being a one-party dictatorship, like any other administration has to listen to its citizens, even at times appease their cries.
It would be so easy for Xi to diplomatically tell Duterte that China has had unforeseen production problems or that the situation in India and Brazil was much worse than that in the Philippines so that it would be diverting its promised vaccines to those countries.
What do you think Chinese citizens feel if the Philippine defense secretary is ordering Chinese fishermen to leave immediately an area that has been in China’s (or Vietnam’s) control since 1974? Or, if a former Supreme Court justice like Antonio Carpio claims the vaccines are in exchange for Duterte’s surrender of Philippine territory? Or if political leaders incessantly call China a bully?
At this time, the last country we’d want to quarrel with, and over an issue in which we are clearly in the wrong, is China. If suddenly I’m told that I cannot get my vaccine this year because China did not ship what they promised, I’ll blame Lorenzana and Locsin and probably picket their offices demanding their resignation. Damn them.