Regional bully

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

Duterte is wrong. Trying to appease the regional bully at the expense of our legal rights to our EEZ isn’t a sustainable strategy. Geography is destiny. China looks at its neighbors as vassals.  Besides, neutrality isn’t what it used to be. Sweden and Finland are now members of NATO.

I didn’t vote for BBM for many reasons. One is the fear that he will become a puppet of China as his predecessor Duterte was. I am pleasantly surprised by BBM standing up for our country’s rights. The last President who stood up against the regional bully was PNoy, who brought the China Sea issue to international arbitration.

Our ASEAN partners with the possible exception of Vietnam have all been intimidated by China’s bullying. Or were bought off with economic aid or threatened by economic blackmail.

The only other ASEAN country that initially protested China’s claim was Indonesia. Journalist Howard French in his book on Chinese imperialism noted that “Indonesia has never hidden its deep skepticism about Beijing’s nine-dash line. When China first filed with the UN claims based on this cartographic conceit, Jakarta immediately eschewed that China’s mapmaker line ‘clearly lacked legal basis.’”

For a while Indonesia had been vigilant defending part of its EEZ that China also claims. President Widodo even visited the contested area, something Duterte was too chicken to do.

But a significant inflow of Chinese economic assistance to Indonesia, from a high-speed train to investments in mining and other sectors, have apparently been sufficient to buy its support. Its newly elected president’s first order of business, before he took his oath of office, is to visit Beijing. He promised to boost defense cooperation with China to include fulfilling the needs of Indonesia’s military hardware, boost cooperation in the defense industry.

Another journalist, Bill Haytop, in his book on the China Sea problems, noted that “there are no grounds under UNCLOS for China to claim sovereignty…There is simply no mention of historic rights in UNCLOS, except in relation to areas within the territorial waters of an archipelagic state – which China is not.

“By ratifying UNCLOS, which it did in 1996, China signed away its right to claim ‘historic rights’ in other countries’ EEZ --- at least under UNCLOS. Instead, some Chinese state officials have been trying to argue that Chinese explorers and fishermen have roamed the waters of the South China Sea for centuries and that those activities provide a basis to claim all the land and all the sea within the U-shaped line…

“The mobilization of this argument appears to be an attempt to rewrite international law in China’s favor and legitimize a territorial claim… Most scholars of the subject regard this argument as flawed on historical grounds and specious on legal ones…”

Some years ago, I wrote about an article published by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies touching on our problems with China. The narrative and the insights of Amitav Acharya, a visiting professorial fellow of the Institute from the American University in Washington DC are particularly revealing of Chinese attitudes.

Acharya recalls that during the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Hanoi in 2010, US State Secretary Hillary Clinton announced that the South China Sea was one of America’s core interests. That statement, according to Acharya, provoked rough talk from her Chinese counterpart, who is supposed to have looked at Singapore’s then Foreign Minister George Yeo and said, “China is a big country and other countries are small countries and that’s just a fact.”

Spoken like a true bully, that statement had been the hallmark of China’s policy towards its neighbors in Southeast Asia. China will get what it wants by whatever way it can, just because it can.

Unfortunately, Duterte was intimidated enough to describe the Philippines, probably not totally in jest, as a province of China. It was obvious during his term that Duterte was very deferential to Xi Jinping. But Duterte’s tragedy is that China didn’t take him seriously enough to deliver on its promises of economic support. Not even the railroad in Davao, Duterte’s pet project, was delivered by China.

Now Duterte admits in an interview with Global Times, a Chinese government mouthpiece, that indeed as claimed by the Chinese foreign ministry, he has a secret agreement with Xi Jinping that supposedly calls for a status quo in the contested area. That means eventually abandoning our stranded navy vessel because he agreed not to repair it. Duterte claims his appeasement of Beijing was to prevent a shooting war which we cannot win.

Showing absolute subservience to Beijing, Duterte said the victory of the Philippines over China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is just a “piece of paper,” trash to be thrown away. “They filed a case. We won. That paper, in real life, between nations, is nothing.”

Imagine if Sara Duterte instead of BBM succeeded Duterte… we would be the new Uighurs.

China is the neighborhood bully and BBM is trying to win allies to help assert our rights.

Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese leader who made it possible for China to become a world leader has been proven prophetic.

During a Special Session of the UN General Assembly on April 10, 1974, Deng warned that “If one day, China should change color and turn into a superpower, if it should play the tyrant in the world, subject others to its bullying, aggression and exploitation, the people of the world should identify it as social-imperialism, expose it, oppose it and work together with the Chinese people to overthrow China.”

We are at that point today.



Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on X @boochanco

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