Closing the door to negotiations
When China expressed its willingness to enter into negotiations without any pre-condition, we should have taken that unilateral offer as constructive. Maybe it is something that the Chinese government cannot publicly divulge because their formula might not be acceptable to the Philippines to cause instead the hardening of one’s positions. Nonetheless, the offer to negotiate on a bilateral basis cannot be said to be premised on a take-it-or-leave-it basis because that could now be interpreted as demand for unconditional surrender for which no state would be willing to accept. China has already reached the stage of political maturity that peaceful negotiations is understood to come in on a quid pro quo basis.
What is adding complication for us to reach a peaceful dialogue was our decision to bring along with us a third party which has no direct or identifiable interest in the area, except to invoke the international law of freedom of navigation which it has consistently violated. China has reiterated that freedom of navigation is not an issue or that there is a need for the Asean to adopt a Code of Conduct for the free and peaceful navigation in the China Sea.
One must bear in mind that those reclamations being carried by China in the disputed islands cannot be said as heightening the tension in the area. The disputed territory under international law is presumed to be a part of that country’s national territory for which they could do anything like putting up an airstrip, communications station, barracks for its personnel, and berthing ground for its naval ships. Equivocally, we can also do the same in those islands which we presently occupy, and they can never prevent us from carrying out similar undertakings unless it resorts to war which many political analysts believe is unlikely to happen.
The US has constructed a network of military installations mostly facing the China Sea. Adding to this is the decision by the Aquino administration to allow the entry and participation of the Japanese navy in patrolling the area. China has interpreted the entry of Japan alongside with the US as not contributory to the peaceful resolution of the dispute. Rather, the increased US naval patrol and the expanded radius of the so-called Japan’s maritime responsibility is seen by China as a clear provocation.
The US and Japan have no direct interests in the South China Sea except to assure other countries that it is there to maintain the so-called “freedom of navigation.” Neither can the US and the Philippines insist on the observance of a Code of Conduct for Navigation which has yet to be ratified by countries having claims in the disputed Spratly and Parcel Islands. In fact, China has responded to the increased naval activity of the US and Japan by announcing they soon would be holding naval exercise with Russia. Unlike the US, Russia has its own direct interest in the area because of its dispute with Japan over the Kuril Island, and the insult made by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe when he visited Kiev. China, on the other hand, has its own reason because of their dispute with Japan over the uninhabited islands of Diaoyu or Senkaku islands.
The Aquino government failed to analyze that when he allowed the US to reopen their military bases, such act is in defiance of our Constitution. In fact, many doubt whether the US is working for our interest when it was discovered that its military and civilian personnel were involved during the operations to bag two terrorists hiding in Mamasapano. The US did not act to secure our security interest but did so because the two terrorists happened to be wanted by the US authorities. This could be deduced by the fact that the US has not issued a statement condemning the barbaric slaughter of our men or expressed opposition to the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law to which the majority of our people have expressed their opposition.
For all our crying about China’s reclamation and build up of its military facilities in the occupied islands, we have yet to reconcile ourselves to the truth that their reclamation and construction have been confined mainly to those islands they presently occupy. As disputed islands, there is the presumption that those islands belong to them. It would be a different story if the Chinese navy would forcibly evict us from those islands we occupy. Conversely, we are equally free to build our own faculties, which we already did by building up our own airstrip.
That situation is no different from our decision to bring our claim over the disputed islands to the Permanent Court of Arbitration Court. Despite China’s vigorous protestation and declaration not to recognize its jurisdiction, it has not prevented us from taking such action that could lead to confrontation. Secretary Albert del Rosario has a created a dilemma for the country. We cannot hope now to realize our objective by that decision to lodge a complaint against China before the PAC. Perhaps, China may not pressure us to withdraw our case but definitely, it would be far-fetched for us to pursue the peaceful dialogue while a case is pending before it. Our position has even become an oddity because those highly paid American lawyers hired by our government are the ones arguing for us, and not our citizens doing what they are supposed to do.
Maybe the Chinese government can wait for the next administration to come for us to present a truly constructive formula for a peaceful dialogue. But it would require an extraordinary act of statesmanship to drop our claim which we filed at our own initiative, notwithstanding that any settlement of dispute in the South China Sea could make the US a redundant naval power in the region.
If Del Rosario knows the history of the Asean, how it was conceived in Bangkok in 1967, he would have realized that it began as an economic bloc intended to accelerate trade and development among the original five member-countries. It was not meant to supersede the defunct SEATO or was intended to become an umbrella of the US in its war efforts in Vietnam. Thus, the idea of enlarging the ASEAN into a military bloc to be operated and directed by a non- member like the US is something that has raised eyebrow in the diplomatic circle.
Some members in the ASEAN like Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei are not keen in raising the issue about the China Sea dispute. They consider their trade with China as far more important. China has more to offer in terms of trade and investment for which reason, it created the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank. The US could not offer anything except to fan the flames of war by selling those outmoded armaments to countries willing to fight a proxy war with China, and the tragedy of Ukraine is there for us to see.