China’s two-faced diplomacy

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan - The Philippine Star

I finally got my hands on the joint statement between China and the Philippines following President Marcos’ state visit earlier this month. I found China’s declarations to be a complete and utter exercise in hypocrisy. Here’s why…

In the joint statement, both parties reaffirmed the following: Their commitment to the mutual respect of sovereignty, territorial integrity and the peaceful settlement of disputes; the importance of maintaining and promoting stability in the region; to reach a consensus on the peaceful resolution of disputes according to the Declaration of the Conduct (DOC) in the West Philippine Sea and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS).

China’s reaffirmations are hypocritical because, first, its premeditated and unlawful invasion of our territories was in itself already an act of disrespect of Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Second, the Philippines sought to resolve the matter in the proper legal venue, the International Tribunal of the Law of the Seas. The high tribunal ruled in the Philippines’ favor based on UNCLOS Laws, to which China is a signatory. However, China refuses to recognize the court’s decision and continues to illegally occupy swaths of territories within Philippine exclusive economic zone.

Third, contrary maintaining stability in the region, China fans the flames of tension, what with the militarization of the area, illegal reclamation and aggressive behavior toward Philippine fishermen and coast guards.

Fourth, if China is indeed respectful of rule-based treaties such as DOC and UNCLOS, it would adhere to the court’s decision, which is final and binding.

Xi Jinping also committed to cease from barring Filipino fishermen from casting their nets in the disputed zones. But in a video taken just two weeks after the state visit, Chinese coast guards were seen forbidding our fishermen from freely traversing the waters. Xi lied again. I say “again” because he made the same promise to Mr. Duterte.

Taking all these into consideration, President Marcos should not be duped by China’s two-faced diplomacy. President Duterte made that mistake and the country continues to pay dearly for it.

Backtrack 2016 and president Duterte pursued a policy of appeasement toward China. This required several courses of action on Mr. Duterte’s part, namely, to downplay the issue of China’s invasion of our sovereign territories; to agree to China’s preferred means of resolving the territorial row, not in a multilateral or legal fora but through bilateral consultative mechanisms; to downgrade US-Philippine security agreements; to bestow preferential treatment to the Chinese in terms of trade, investments and diplomacy and, most damagingly of all, not to enforce our victory at the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

It’s been said that president Duterte’s pivot to China was motivated by the fear of armed conflict, the promise of $24 billion in developmental aid and investments and his personal bias against the US (which he clearly articulated in an interview with Al Jazeera).

Well, despite being a meek tool to the Chinese, China never delivered on its $24-billion lure. Records show that China’s cumulative investments in the Philippines between 2016 to 2021 amounted to a measly $2.7 billion, one-tenth of what was committed.

China was the big winner in that it had its way in the West Philippine Sea with no consequence from Mr. Duterte. It did so without fulfilling its end of the bargain. The Philippines was the big loser with nothing to show for its subservience. How sad… how pathetic. It was a complete failure in bilateral policy.

In contrast, the US and Japan never waivered in their commitments to the Philippines.

The US is the only country with whom we share a formal defense treaty, enacted in 1951. Japan is an important security partner, made official by the Philippine-Japan Security Partnership, signed in 2015. The US and Japan share common interest with the Philippines in relation to the Philippine Sea. These include peace, freedom of navigation and overflight and the protection of environmental resources.

In deference to Philippine sovereignty, the US and Japan went along with president Duterte’s decision to “pivot” to China. The US even allowed a re-calibration in the orientation of our defense treaty – from one that touched on territorial defense (which affects China), to one that focused only on anti-terrorism and humanitarian missions.

Despite Mr. Duterte’s biases, neither Japan nor the US minimized their support to the Philippines. In fact, Japan even intensified its maritime cooperation with our coast guards and navy. The late prime minister, Shinzo Abe, even engaged president Duterte numerous times to convince him to allow Japan to help the Philippines improve its maritime security through the provision of coast guard vessels and naval reconnaissance aircraft.

The US, for its part, never stopped helping the Philippines develop its military capabilities through its Maritime Security Initiative. It also extended security assistance whenever pertinent. It never ceased to honor its treaty commitments to defend the Philippines, a fact Vice President Kamala Harris reiterated during her visit.

When 200 Chinese vessels assaulted Philippine forces in Whitsun (Julian Felipe) Reef, it was the US and Japan who came to the aid of the Philippine navy. Both countries have proven ready to live up to their treaty and/or partnership commitments.

China is only a friend if it serves its purpose. This is true for the Philippines and all other nations it engages with. Real friends do not steal, grab, entrap and bully the other into submission.

With patent hypocrisy, President Marcos should not be blinded by Chinese promises and false commitments, which they have no qualms on breaking. Rather, he must remain pragmatic and even skeptical.

We understand that President Marcos must play footsies with Xi to secure trade deals and avenues of cooperation. Fine. But we must never waiver on our territorial claim nor act in a manner that gives China license to continue its illegal operations in the West Philippine Sea. Let us never be duped by China’s two-faced diplomacy again.

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Email: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @aj_masigan

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