PRESIDENT Ferdinand Marcos Jr. clearly laid out his foreign policy in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) the other day, as he has done in several other speeches: “Our independent foreign policy — a friend to all and enemy of none — has proven effective. We formed strategic alliances with our traditional and newfound partners in the international community.”
“Traditional partner” is obviously the US, but “newfound” obviously refers to the People’s Republic of China, which the foreign affairs department and our ambassador to Washington Jose Manuel Romualdez have all been treating as an enemy, with the latter repeatedly calling China a bully, an expansionist power.
The DFA recently was even led by the nose by a propaganda vehicle set up by the China-hater the late Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, the ADR Stratbase, to participate in a desperate move to revive interest in the Aquino 3rd government’s arbitration “victory” by celebrating the seventh anniversary of its awarding.
Did Marcos say the country should pressure China to comply with the arbitration award (which after all did not order China to do anything)? Nope. He didn’t even mention the “arbitration award,” not even China or the US. Well, not even the disputes in the South China Sea — his way of sending the message to his officials not to raise tensions there, to tone it down. But wasn’t that the policy of his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, for which our “Amboys” have criticized him as servile to China?
And what did Marcos say instead? “With our national interest paramount, we will always pursue constant dialogue and diplomatic approaches to the resolution of any issue that may arise.” (Itals mine)
Does the President have to categorically tell the DFA, Romualdez, the Coast Guard, and the Armed Forces: “Stop escalating our maritime disputes with China, by shrieking to the media that its vessels are intruding into our maritime-areas. The fact is that China thinks those areas are its sovereign territory. Dialogue with it and seek diplomatic approaches to resolve the issue.”
Seven years after the useless arbitration award was issued, I cannot fathom why the DFA and the likes of Romualdez cannot understand that the US-backed path the Aquino 3rd administration took to drive China out of areas we deem are ours has not just totally failed. It even gave China the excuse to turn their seven puny reefs into artificial island-fortresses, with the US totally helpless in preventing the Chinese from doing so.
Aquino 3rd and del Rosario (and the US) are really to blame for the militarization of the South China Sea. The artificial-island building was China’s response on the ground to the arbitration suit. China even offered to stop its building of more artificial islands in 2014 if the Philippines would withdraw the suit. We refused.
A definition of insanity almost always attributed (falsely, though) to the great physicist Albert Einstein reads: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” By this definition, the DFA, Romualdez and ADR Stratbase are nuts.
Every arbitration anniversary, and even whenever the Coast Guard encounters a Chinese vessel it claims is intruding into our waters, they run to the press to condemn China’s bullying, and ask the government to pressure China to comply with the award — which however doesn’t really resolve our territorial disputes with the superpower. Three ignorant senators even want the government to ask the United Nations General Assembly to call on China to comply with the award.
Let me repeat for the nth time the following three points which if one understands these will almost immediately realize that this arbitration thing is nonsense:
First, China claims the Spratlys and the Macclesfield Bank (Reed Bank) as part of their sovereign territory, and they have official state actions (declarations, maps, etc.) — not just the nine-dash line — made as late as in the 1950s and 1960s that show that they have done so. On the other hand, we claim the Spratlys as our sovereign territory on the ground that Marcos in 1978 annexed it as our Kalayaan Island Group, declaring — falsely obviously — that no nation claimed it. A new Philippine claim, declared in the arbitration, is that our exclusive economic zone encompasses the Spratlys. This is a wrong path: an EEZ claim is inferior to a territorial claim. Our EEZ encompasses most of Taiwan but we don’t even dare to tell the Taiwanese we have a dispute with them.
I just cannot understand why even supposedly intelligent people and observers can’t understand the stark reality: China has claims, the Philippines has claims. Our media-hungry Coast Guard often shrieks that the Chinese are intruding into our “territory” when for them, they are merely patrolling or fishing in their waters.
Second, for the mountains of ink written on these disputes, the reality, which even international practice affirms, is that there is no body on heaven and earth that is empowered to decide on territorial and maritime disputes. Unclos was set up to provide guidelines to solve maritime-area disputes (e.g. legitimacy of an EEZ) but not those over territory.
Territorial and maritime-claim disputes are settled only through war, mutual agreement of the two claimants, voluntary surrender of a claim by one party, or as in the case of our Pugad Island, through trickery (by the Vietnamese ) — never through a compulsory process.
The Philippines and the arbitral panel claimed that Unclos has a provision to require compulsory arbitration. China disagrees. Scholars are divided on the issue. As a very appropriate Filipino sentence describes such an impasse: “So paano na yan?” There isn’t a world sheriff to implement the award, although as I have explained in previous columns, its provisions are of an academic nature, declaring this or that, but not ordering China to do so.
That arbitration vessel has long sailed. We should forget it, although the US continues to exploit the “award” in order to demonize China, and drive a wedge between us. Even an unabashed apologist for US hegemonism, Gregory Poling, in his new (but still misleading and in many parts inaccurate book) pointed to the way out to make the South China Sea a sea of peace. He wrote:
“The most likely endgame in the Spratlys is recognition of the current status quo. Southwest Cay (Pugad) is the only island to ever change hands between two of the modern claimants. In all other cases, the one who got there first (excepting Japan and France, which publicly ceded or quietly abandoned their claims, respectively) is still within control. Scarborough is best left unoccupied, as it has always been, with a cooperative management scheme for traditional fishing… * (The Philippines had since 1971 been occupying Southwest Cay [Pugad Island to us], until the Vietnamese were able to take it over in 1975 by tricking the Filipino troops there into leaving for a party in a nearby island, only to return the next morning to find Vietnam guns trained on them on their landing boats.)
“As another US Navy think-tank* earlier concluded after a lengthy study of the disputes: ‘The reality on the ground is that China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines all permanently occupy features in the Spratly group; some have done so for over 50 years;.”
These countries may well claim that the length of such occupation strengthens their sovereignty claims, as effective occupation (effectivités) is viewed in international law as one means of acquiring sovereignty over a particular territory. (*Roach, J. Ashley, “Malaysia and Brunei: An Analysis of their Claims in the South China Sea,” August 2014, CNA Analysis and Solutions, page iii.)
The stark reality is hell would have to freeze over before China, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines vacate the features they now occupy. If that is the case, then can’t the claimants, as Marcos put it in his SONA, “pursue constant dialogue and diplomatic approaches” to make the South China Sea a sea of peace, and even prosperity if the countries undertake joint development to exploit its natural resources?
This will even be along the very logical exhortation of Deng Xiaoping, China’s most revered leader after Mao, made decades ago that we have to “set aside disputes and pursue joint development” in contested areas, and that “the next generation will have more wisdom” to solve these problems.
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