Security Initiative

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

It was launched in April 2022, and mentioned by Xi Jinping later in the year at the Communist Party congress, wherein he was given an unprecedented third term as president: China’s “global security initiative.”

No, you meanies, it doesn’t refer to a new Chinese initiative to stake a territorial claim over the entire Pacific Ocean.

As described by Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian, the initiative is “a new security path” being promoted by Xi built on dialogue, partnership and “win-win” outcomes rather than confrontation with other countries.

The ambassador issued the statement last Thursday at an evening reception that I attended on the Qi Jiguang, said to be the largest training ship of the Chinese navy, which docked in Manila’s port for a four-day goodwill visit.

Ambassador Huang, in his welcome remarks, reminded guests that his country and the Philippines “have lived in harmony and peace for over 1,000 years.”

That isn’t exactly accurate; Chinese pirates marauded in the Philippines. Limahong, foiled by the Spaniards in his 1574 raid in Manila, took his bandits onboard around 70 boats up north and settled briefly along the Pangasinan-Zambales coastal area before again being driven away.

But Limahong was wanted even by Chinese authorities. In those days, people in this archipelago largely traded in peace with merchants from China, so Ambassador Huang has a point about living in harmony.

*      *      *

Today, Chinese ships continue to enter the waters off Pangasinan and Zambales – the provinces closest to Panatag or Scarborough Shoal – in what we now call the West Philippine Sea.

This time, as reported by the Philippine Coast Guard, the Chinese vessels are arriving in swarms of up to 200, escorted by their militia-type coast guard, chasing away Philippine patrol vessels and fishing boats from the area with laser light and water hoses. A drop in fish catch in the West Philippine Sea has been attributed partly to Chinese operations in the area.

According to fishermen’s groups, some of the large Chinese fishing vessels are also catching the large round scad or galunggong that spawn in Philippine waters but prefer lower depths when fully grown. Filipino fishermen with their small outriggers, who are limited to municipal waters, cannot venture farther out and therefore cannot catch the big “GG.”

Galunggong, we are told, is a food fish that is popular mainly in the Philippines. So the large GG caught by foreigners with bigger boats are sold to Filipinos.

Beijing’s claim over nearly the entire South China Sea, leaving other countries with only enough maritime area for beach resorts and small-scale fishing, makes Xi’s Global Security Initiative or GSI a tough sell in the Philippines.

Xi announced the GSI at the Boao Forum for Asia in April last year. It was described by China’s foreign minister at the time, Wang Yi, as something that “improves and goes beyond the Western theory of geopolitical security.”

The GSI originally espoused the concept of “indivisible security.” As explained by Wang, this means the “security of one country should not come at the expense of that of others, and security of a region cannot be ensured by strengthening or even expanding military blocs.”

*      *      *

Vladimir Putin used a version of the concept to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, whose impact on supply chains contributed to skyrocketing commodity prices all over the planet. Seeing how this war has unfolded, Beijing has toned down mention of “indivisible security.” Someone must have also pointed out the wisdom of keeping concepts and messages simple in promoting “Xiplomacy.”

Huang, in his speech on the training ship, kept everything simple. He said that “under the strategic guidance” of Xi and President Marcos, the two countries will write “a new... more glorious chapter” in bilateral relations.

The next day, addressing a problem spawned by the Russian invasion, Huang formally turned over to BBM a Chinese donation of 20,000 metric tons of urea. The Philippines is 100 percent dependent on imports for urea, which is preferred by local farmers because the chemical fertilizer ensures a higher yield and faster growth for rice and other crops. The country’s main source of urea, unfortunately, is the Russia-Ukraine war theater.

Some folks had hoped that Xi could persuade his bestie Putin to end the invasion already, but so far, Xi has not done so. If the invasion is emblematic of the new global security initiative, who will want it besides Beijing and Moscow?

*      *      *

As defined by Beijing in official documents, it has six commitments under the GSI.

One is pursuing a comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security. Another is maintaining security in both traditional and non-traditional domains. Dialogue is emphasized for the peaceful resolution of disputes.

Filipinos who couldn’t be cajoled by China-loving Rodrigo Duterte to support his pivot to Beijing would sniff at the three other GSI commitments: to abide by the United Nations Charter and to respect the sovereignty and integrity of all countries, taking seriously their legitimate security concerns.

The UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague invalidated Beijing’s entire nine-dash-line claim over the South China Sea, with the ruling based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. China was among the first countries to sign UNCLOS, back in 1982; it ratified the convention in 1996.

Yet Beijing does not recognize the arbitral ruling, and has embarked on an aggressive construction of artificial islands across the South China Sea, including on reefs within the  Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as defined under UNCLOS.

Massive swarms of Chinese militia vessels routinely shoo away Filipinos from traditional fishing grounds in the West Philippine Sea, and challenge Philippine Coast Guard, Navy and Bureau of Fisheries ships that sail within the Philippines’ EEZ.

Bilateral ties, of course, cover many other areas outside the maritime dispute. Rear Admiral Su Yinsheng, commander of the Qi Jiguang, said in his welcome remarks at the reception last Thursday that “China and the Philippines are good neighbors.”

The amiable Philippine Navy chief Toribio Adaci Jr., the main guest at the reception, had a similar message in his speech that must have been coordinated with Philippine foreign affairs officials.

A streamer on deck welcomed guests with the words, “May China-Philippines friendship last forever.”

I have relatives in Fujian and I share that aspiration for lasting friendship. Except the West Philippine Sea keeps getting in the way.

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