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Are we friends till the end or is it the end?

The recent pronouncement of Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing that they “value our friendship” seems to indicate otherwise. Recent reports show that the Chinese have taken over another part of what is clearly within our exclusive economic zone. Retired Philippine Ambassador Larry Baja, who was the guest speaker at the Manila Rotary, discussed the country’s current situation regarding China and said that rather than elevating the dispute to a UN tribunal, we should engage in separate talks and utilize personal relationships to initiate frank dialogue like what he did with Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Fu Ying, who was Ambassador to the Philippines in 1998. 

The former Foreign Affairs Undersecretary also said a Chinese irritant is our perceived dependence on the United States – and raised the possibility that the Americans might just renege on our mutual defense treaty because they may not be willing to engage in a “boxing match” against China as former president Fidel Ramos put it. While Larry Baja has some good points, I disagree with him because if we ever reach a situation where we would be compelled to invoke our mutual defense treaty, the US will honor its commitment — because it serves American interest for the Philippines to maintain its territorial independence.

Analysts have been keenly noting the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s gradual build up of its naval capability, augmenting its fleet with more cruisers and destroyers over the years and maneuvering to be in a position where it can deny operational access to “unfriendly forces” in critical areas. Military experts pointed to China’s new naval strategy of “Area Anti-Access Denial” that seems to have Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and obviously the US — all having the largest navies in the world — for its target.

Knowing the US has the capability to block access to critical resources that China would require during times of “crisis,” Beijing’s strategy has been focusing on several “island chains” that serve as defensive perimeters since these are occupied by countries that could go against China if it initiates aggression against important American allies in the Asia-Pacific region.

It’s not farfetched that China may have been “testing the waters” when, during its recent joint training session with Russia, five Chinese warships sailed through the “first island chain blockade” – something that experts say it has dreamed of doing for so long – and gained access to the Pacific Ocean by taking on a different route through Soya Strait between Russia’s Sakhalin Island and Hokkaido, then returning through Miyako Strait and Okinawa islands. 

The “first island chain” – which refers to the first major archipelagos off East Asia that include Ryukyu Islands and stretching from Japan’s Kyushu Islands to Taiwan and northern Philippines – is regarded by the US as a critical barrier, which is why the Chinese fleet’s successful navigation through the chain is cause for concern.

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And while we Filipinos want to have amicable relations with an economic giant like China, still hopeful that sovereignty disputes will be eventually resolved through diplomacy, China is acting like the local New People’s Army whose unreasonable demands as Ronald Llamas told us is the reason why the peace talks broke down. Every day, we hear stories about the Chinese practically doing what they want, their vessels going in and out of Philippine waters whenever they please. Our fishermen are now forced to look for another source of livelihood because Chinese ships drive them away from Scarborough and other disputed territories — so Filipinos keep stretching their patience because we do not have the military might to go against a belligerent, bullying neighbor.

Like it or not, we just have to close our eyes and accept the fact that we have to open Subic and Clark to the Americans once again because we can only depend on our longtime ally to help in case Chinese aggression gets even worse than what we are already experiencing today. The incoming new US Ambassador Phillip Goldberg is highly respected in the intelligence community being the current chief of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and his presence here will most likely give Washington firsthand expert intelligence on the ongoing situation.

Those who accuse Secretary Albert del Rosario of being too pro-American have it all wrong. Some of us may be unabashedly pro-American but we are absolutely pro-Filipino – and Secretary del Rosario is simply doing what our best option is for now: to open our shores to American military might.

International experts also point to the  “Principle of Effective Occupation” which may just come into play. Simply put, this principle gives a country ownership rights over a territory that it actually possesses – meaning it has built structures and its flag flies over the area – something the Chinese have done in disputed territories like Mischief Reef which it illegally occupied in 1994 and transformed into its forward naval station. So why is Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing bothered that the Philippines may just build structures in Ayungin Shoal – an area located within our exclusive economic zone?

No doubt the Chinese have become so adept at “double speak” — giving assurances of their commitment to pursue “the path of peaceful development,” saying the Philippines and China will continue to be “friendly neighbors.” Yet their actions belie such comforting words — as if they’re really saying “we’re friends but what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine” — something totally unacceptable to any self-respecting Filipino.

So pardon me, Madam Ambassador — with your country’s aggressive moves, we can be friends till the end — but the end seems to be near.

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Email: babeseyeview@yahoo.com

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