Last of 3 parts
THIS is the last of the three-part series, excerpted from my recently released book Debacle: The Aquino Regime’s Scarborough Fiasco and the South China Sea Arbitration Deception, in which I proposed a three-pronged, realistic strategy for the country to address this crucial issue.
The first requires as to tighten our hold on the islands and reefs we have occupied since President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. acquired these in the 1970s by developing them not just as military outposts, but even to the extent of transforming Pag-asa, our biggest island, into a resort of sorts for the adventurous super-elite (as Malaysia did in the case of its Layang-Layang Scuba Resort in the 1980s).
The overarching fallacy that underpins the US and the Yellows bloc’s deception on the arbitration case is its view of China as the new Evil Empire (after the collapsed Soviet Union) intent on grabbing the entire SCS and transforming its littoral states into vassals. This is obviously derived from the view during the Cold War that the ruling Chinese Communist Party intends to export Marxist-Leninist revolution to all countries, first in Asia and then the world.
This view has been totally debunked by nearly all mainstream scholars. The Chinese Communist Party no longer sees its legitimacy as being based on its adherence to Marxism-Leninism but on two things.
First is its success in developing China’s economy and lifting its huge population out of poverty. Second is its capability in upholding China’s dignity in the international community of nations and developing its citizens’ sense of nationalism. This is especially important for China because of its “century of humiliation” that is deeply etched in its national consciousness, when the once powerful empire was invaded by Western powers and Japan, swaths of its territory grabbed, and hundreds of thousands of its citizens killed.
These two Chinese imperatives explain much of China’s behavior in the SCS in the post-war period. It shirked away from enforcing its claims of sovereignty in this period’s first three years and was totally focused on developing its economy.
It even did nothing in the SCS when the Philippines and Vietnam occupied the best “properties” there — i.e., islands and islets — in the 1970s. This is most probably because of its calculation that the hegemon at the time, the US, would go to the aid of these two nations and then use the excuse of a Chinese “aggression” to wage war against it — when it was still militarily and economically weak.
China’s first aggressive move into the SCS was when it fought the Vietnamese in 1974 in the Paracels, when Vietnamese appeared to be ready to invade the Chinese part of those islands. (The Philippines has no claims in the Paracels archipelago.)
While the precise sequence of events — who fired the first shot — is controversial, it has been undisputed that China’s aggressiveness was due to Vietnam’s awarding of several oil exploration contracts to Shell, Exxon, Mobil and Canadian oil firms in the western edges of the Spratlys the year before.
It would be 14 years later, in 1988, that China would go into the Spratlys to occupy the seven reefs, to which was added only one reef, Mischief, in 1994. There have been explanations why China decided to move at this time. Those critical of China claim it was emboldened by its rapprochement with the USSR, which had been Vietnam’s ally because of its military base in Cam Ranh Bay, from which it regularly flew bombers to patrol the SCS.
It was also at this time that China developed its People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) capability to transport troops and material to the Spratly archipelago, which was a thousand kilometers away from its nearest port in Hainan.
However, the undisputed trigger for China’s move was Vietnam’s occupation first of Barque Canada Reef in April 1987, followed by 10 other reefs in 1988. With Malaysia also occupying Swallow Reef in 1983 and Aradasier Reef in 1986, China’s leadership would have been condemned by its citizens for just sitting idly by as the SCS was occupied by smaller countries. The Vietnamese and Chinese navies also clashed at Johnson Reef in March 1988, which gave the latter the excuse for its occupation of the reefs.
From these two major waves of occupation, and from the Mischief Reef and Scarborough Shoal incidents discussed in earlier chapters, there is a clear pattern of Chinese behavior in the SCS. Whether it is merely a clever strategy or not, China moves decisively to assert its claims in the SCS when it is provoked to do so. If it does not, the Chinese Communist Party’s credibility in upholding the country’s sovereignty would be dented.
This was exactly the consequence when the Philippines filed its arbitration suit in 2013. China reacted by spending at least $150 billion to transform its reefs into huge artificial islands. US propagandists, however, distort this Chinese defensive reaction, even pointed out by US military scholars, as China’s “creeping invasion” of the SCS.
Filipinos cannot just blindly embrace the US’ anti-China ideology — arising from its fears of being eclipsed by the new superpower — which is at the core of its policies in Asia.
That is a remnant — or a new form — of the 1950s Cold War thinking when the US and the West saw the communist-ruled Soviet Union and China as wanting to replace their “open” system (read: democratic) with the communist (read: “closed”) one in their countries.
But that era has long gone: The USSR has imploded, and all its member-nations are capitalists. While the Chinese leadership professes loyalty to its Marxist ideology, it practices not just “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” but even perhaps more so, “capitalism with Chinese characteristics.”
More importantly, during the Cold War, there was no trade nor financial relationships between the US and the West on the one hand and the USSR and China on the other. Now, after its neighbors Mexico and Canada, the US’ biggest trading partner is China, and after Japan, the biggest foreign holder of US Treasury securities.
There is indeed a deep disconnect in the cooperative relationship between the US and China on the “real” level, the economy, and on their state-to-state relations. There is a similar disconnect between the close relationship between China and the Philippines in terms of trade (China with Hong Kong is the latter’s biggest trade partner) and the hostile stance the Aquino regime adopted against it.
Indeed, it is unfortunate that most American books on the SCS dispute disseminate the view that it is essentially a struggle for power and supremacy between the two superpowers and preclude a peaceful resolution. The integration of the global economy, and the inter-dependencies between the economies of the US and China are forces that tame the belligerence between them.
One of the worst legacies of the Aquino regime has been his slogan, “What is ours, is ours.” When used by an individual, it is an infantile declaration, usually uttered by spoiled brats. Yes, the Philippines has its EEZ and territorial claims in the South China Sea. But so do the Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, and even the Malaysians, and they have their own justifications for these.
Maturity of an individual means the recognition of the existence of other minds, and recognition of these minds’ views and needs. In the SCS disputes, this means the recognition of other countries’ claims, and accepting that the resolution of these is better than unending hostility.
Note: I have postponed for Monday the publication of the second part of my series on how Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian and his gang have tried to sabotage the sale of Malampaya shares to Chinese-Filipino Dennis Uy for the benefit of the Indonesian-owned Salim conglomerate First Pacific. This is in order to give the senators and First Pacific more time to respond to the claims made in my article last Wednesday. So far I haven’t heard a word from them, which in journalism mostly means their agreement to the statements in an article.
I will also narrate Monday how First Pacific itself tried to block the deal as soon as it lost the biddings undertaken by Chevron. It was after that failed that Senators Gatchalian, Risa Hontiveros and Vicente Sotto launched their campaign to claim that the sale was rigged, and that Energy Secretary Al Cusi and 11 Energy department career officials were corrupt.
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