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Opinion

Pressed on sea row, China hardens stance

- Federico D. Pascual Jr. - The Philippine Star

CHINA President Xi Jinping was forced last Friday to repeat to US President Barack Obama that various South China Sea isles and shoals being claimed by the Philippines and other neighbors have been Chinese territory since ancient times.

Xi did not say anything new, but he’s officially reiterating China’s stance before the US president standing beside him may have hardened further China’s PUBLIC POSITION on the maritime territorial dispute to which the US is not even a party.

China’s stiffening may have made dimmer the prospects of finding the diplomatic solution being sought by the Philippines and smaller parties through US and United Nations good offices. Manila has also sought UN arbitration, but Beijing refuses to respond.

“We have the right to uphold our own territorial sovereignty and lawful legitimate maritime rights and interests,” Xi told Obama after the latter voiced concern over Chinese land reclamation and militarization in disputed waters.

Xi added: “Construction activity that China is undertaking in the Nansha islands does not target or impact any country and there is no intention to militarize.” Nansha is the Chinese name for the Spratlys, one of whose islands has a thriving Filipino community.

The Chinese leader, on his first state visit to the US, tried to cushion the hard blow by stressing that his country is committed to freedom of navigation and to resolving disputes through dialogue.

Obama pointed out anyway: “The United States will continue to sail, fly and operate anywhere that international law allows.”

In their joint press conference in the Rose Garden, Obama said: “I conveyed to President Xi our significant concerns over land reclamation, construction and the militarization of disputed areas, which makes it harder for countries in the region to resolve disagreements peacefully.”

China claims a scattering of islands, shoals, reefs and outcrops in navigation lanes and strategic points in the South China Sea, provoking protests by other occupants and claimants, including Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines.

• Aquino toes US line on China dispute

THE HARDENING of China’s position as it is provoked by political pressure may become a tougher problem to smaller neighbors like the Philippines.

There have been suggestions that Manila cut through the multilateral entanglements and go into direct bilateral talks with Beijing to speed up resolution of territorial and commercial questions.

But Washington has advised the Aquino administration not to go into solo negotiation. Such counsel had been conveyed by a stream of US officials, including then State Secretary Hillary Clinton and President Obama himself during their visits.

In moves reminiscent of the Cold War preoccupation with building regional alliances against Communist China, the US wants the Philippines and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations with similar claims versus China to put up a common front.

President Noynoy Aquino has chosen the path lighted by the US, which is to use ASEAN as a multilateral foil against China. But on several occasions, notably in its ministerial meetings, the 10-member ASEAN could not muster a consensus to confront China.

Many administration leaders have voiced doubts about the wisdom of following the US line of not talking to China one-on-one but only through an ASEAN broadband of voices.

Since Mr. Aquino seems stuck with the nonproductive stance of no bilateral talks with Beijing, it appears that the China territorial issue will have to wait for the next president to define a new policy.

Liberal Party presidential candidate Mar Roxas is expected to toe blindfolded the Aquino/US line. Independent presidential candidate Grace Poe has not spoken on the matter. But United Nationalists Alliance standard bearer Jojo Binay once said he favored direct talks with Beijing.

So until June next year, when a new president takes over – and while arbitration under UN auspices drags on – we will just have to watch helplessly while China continues to build islands and strategic military structures in our backyard.

• FF Cruz, US team surveyed Panatag area

THE DISPUTED area closest to the Philippine mainland is Panatag shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc to Zambales fishermen and Scarborough in some international maps. It is 124 nautical miles west of Zambales, well within our 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone.

In April 2012, navy patrols caught Chinese poachers at Panatag with a haul of turtles and some endangered marine species. But Chinese vessels arrived and intervened, resulting in a standoff that had repercussions in other areas.

Under a deal brokered by the US, the two countries agreed to pull out. Philippine vessels did, but the Chinese stayed and continued to stay until this day.

Panatag calls to mind the venerable FF Cruz, a respected engineer and contractor, who surveyed the Masinloc area with a US team before it was made into a target range by the US Navy based at Subic. He had pictures and survey data showing that Panatag is Philippine territory.

We miss the Thursday media lunches with FF at Annabel’s resto on Morato Ave. in Quezon City. He would have been 94 years old last Sept. 25. He died on May 19, 2013, leaving a niche that contractors with one hand under the table cannot fill.

FF was born to a poor peasant family in Sulukan in Angat. He was not sent to school until he was nine years old. Of eight siblings he was the only one who went on to high school and then college.

Finding him “very intelligent,” appreciative teacher Amador K. Roxas convinced the parents to send him to high school with his assistance. After graduating as high school valedictorian in Malolos, he earned a geodetic engineering degree from the University of the Philippines and another in civil engineering from the National University. In 1949 he put up a small surveying firm, which by 1954 had grown into a full-range engineering firm.

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RESEARCH: Access past POSTSCRIPTs at www.manilamail.com. Follow us via Twitter.com/@FDPascual. Email feedback to dikpascual@gmail.com

 

ACIRC AMADOR K AQUINO ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS BEIJING CHINA NBSP OBAMA PANATAG PRESIDENT SOUTH CHINA SEA
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