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'Economist' debate on China; Use our claims as a trump card

I came across a debate in the prestigious Economist magazine that should be interesting to Filipinos following the Philippines-China standoff on Scarborough island.

The motion is: This house believes that the rise of China’s military power is a threat to East Asian stability.

Participants were asked if they agreed with the motion after a closely fought debate. The final score was 43% voted yes and 57% voted no.

Andrew Krepinevich, president, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, Washington DC defended the motion while Dingli Shen, professor and executive dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan university in Shanghai argued against it.

Matthew Symonds who announced the winner made the following comments on how the debate went: “Those against the motion have won a solid but not overwhelming victory. Although supporters of the motion were initially in a small majority, by the third day, the votes had turned quite decisively and, apart from a short-lived comeback for Andrew Krepinevich around the time of closing statements, Dingli Shen never looked back.”

The motion was opposed for a number of reasons. Some simply asserted China’s sovereign right to have whatever armed forces it wanted as long as its intentions remained peaceful.

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Others felt that American military power was more of a threat to regional stability than China’s — not only did America spend much more on its armed force, recent history suggested it was much more likely than China to use them.

Opponents of the motion also pointed out that China’s stake in the global economy ensured that it would not want to jeopardize its new prosperity by risky behavior.

However, even if Mr Krepinevich did not prevail in terms of the vote, his warning resonated with a lot of you, especially, as far as one can tell, those of you who live in some of the neighboring countries (CNP: That’s us in the Philippines).

China, it seems, still has work to do in easing their concerns.”

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We have our own debates here on how to tackle the Spratly dispute. In my opinion wrangling about ownership does not help find a solution that will benefit us. It aggravates a conflict to a military confrontation we will not win. That includes the suggestion to bring it to arbitration in Unclos which sounds reasonable enough but impracticable.

Shelving the ownership issue does not in any way mean giving up our claims. It offers a way out of the conflict and opens possibilities on how to make best use of our claims. It is our trump card in the division of spoils in a cooperative venture with China and other claimants. (I doubt very much that Asean as a body can be made to adopt the hostile stance taken by the Philippines while invoking US support against China.)

We should use our skills for a fair and just cooperative venture for the oil and gas wealth said to be abundant in the China Sea. The overarching principle in all this is to do what is in the best interest of our country. Unfortunately, the issue of ownership has boxed in discussions and put aside the possibility of cooperative ventures.

Lately cooler heads have intervened to downplay war-like rhetoric about defending “territory.” Some Filipinos (with the help of sensationalist media) insist that the dispute be brought to the Unclos as if this would end the hostility. It can be confusing when the US asks China and the Philippines to settle the problem peacefully at the same time that it goes into joint war exercises.

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Japan has not made any noises about its position on the dispute despite attempts to make it more vocal in its commitment as a US ally in ensuring free navigation in the maritime heartland.

Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara raised hackles when he announced from Washington at a Heritage Foundation forum that the Japanese capital would buy a handful of islets in the East China Sea. The islets are owned privately by Japanese citizens and are on lease to the government.

Government sources said that this move by the Tokyo governor does not alter Japanese ownership of the islets whether it is owned by the government or by private citizens. The same sources would not elaborate on why the announcement was made at this juncture of the Philippines-China conflict on Scarborough shoal.

“The islets called Senkaku islands have always been owned by Japan and there has been no dispute about that.” informed sources said. It ignored news reports from Reuters, Financial Times and Bloomberg News that said China also claims the territories.

“Japan’s claim to Senkaku islands is not the same as the Philippines conflict with China on Scarborough shoal,” the sources added.

Tokyo will buy the islands to ward off any misunderstanding about ownership of the islands, Shintaro said. The Tokyo initiative did not elicit any official statements from the governments of both countries although a report cited natural gas fields in a 970 kilometer trough in the East China Sea that can be a potential source of conflict.

Shintaro is part of a group called Seirankai that was against normalization of bilateral diplomatic relations between China and Japan. The two countries recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of the normalization of relations.

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More worrying to US and its allies is a long-standing issue of whether the European Union will lift their arms embargo against China. The EU issued the embargo because of human rights violations after the Tiananmen Square incident in 1992.

Japan along with the United States has been steadfastly opposed to the lifting of the embargo, because it would adversely affect the regional stability in the Asia-Pacific area.

The sources said “The Philippines cannot be indifferent to this issue, because if the arms embargo is lifted and China begins to acquire arms from the EU, it will strengthen Chinese capabilities to patrol the Spratly area.”

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Former President GMA was vindicated when a prosecution witness admitted in court that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) forced her and other election officers to execute new affidavits.

The new affidavits were made to support accusations of alleged tampering of votes in Maguindanao in the 2007 elections being blamed on the former president.

This is an important development in the case against the former president. It demonstrates the extent to which the government will go, including manufacturing evidence, to prosecute its “enemies.”

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