More than saber-rattling!

OFF TANGENT - Aven Piramide - The Freeman

I remember a statement of then Sen. Jovito R. Salonga, when he gave a lecture on his favorite field of study, Public International Law. The legal scholar said that the objective of Public International Law is the outlawry of war. Many of the lesser mortals, not excluding me, did not quite comprehend the profundity and importance of that statement. We thought it was just an expression of an ideal and perhaps out of surrender to its occupying beyond the realm of achievability, we just took it for granted.

The Peoples' Republic of China, I am quite confident, is not rattling its saber, much less engaged in actual war. There is no proverbial sword seen when aerial photographs were taken of its construction of massive dams and dikes in some islands in the Spratleys. The perception that this super power is constructing an airport in this area is just that - perception. Even if it is true that it is building an airfield there for possible use of its war planes (and a wharf, for its warships), that is not showing its military adventurism(?). Remember that war, of which a saber-rattling is, for all intents and purposes, an initial step, is supposed to be outlawed by international law.

Few days ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping, in an apparent assurance to Japan and some members of the ASEAN that the intentions of China are legitimate, issued a statement that sought to address the feeling of restlessness and unease of his Japanese counterpart as well as those of concerned leaders of the ASEAN. His words were cool. He vowed that whatever his country was doing, it was only to protect "their territory". But, also by some intrepid means, the Chinese president was likewise calculating when he said he was opposed to "wilful use or threat of force" maybe because again the whole weight of international law is intended to outlaw war.

No matter how we look at it, Japan and China are locked in a territorial dispute of some kind. While Japan is occupying Senkaku as its territory, China claims the island, which it calls as Diaoyu, as historically its own. Every now and then, they may each issue diplomatic statements indicative of their desire to avoid military confrontation, nevertheless it is clear that to buttress the assertions of each country, both of them back up their respective declarative statements with navy vessels and fighter planes patrolling the area.

The situation in the Spratleys is not entirely different. While the Philippines asserts that since its discovery of some islands there by Filipino Tomas Cloma, it has been administering the area, China says it is within the enclave of its historically known territory, the 9 dash map. There are also parts of this group of islands that are being claimed by some ASEAN countries. Mindful that war is supposedly to be outlawed by public international law, we would want, as we have been trying, China to settle this dispute with us peacefully before international bodies.

Can we force China to face the Philippines in an international legal forum to resolve our conflicting claims? Or, bearing in mind that the consent of a state, like China, to a litigation initiated by another, like the Philippines, is necessary before any international tribunal can act on any cause, is there anything we can do to entice it to solve peacefully our problem?  Our brilliant leaders, discussing in a series of enlightening fora, have shown that the volume of our evidence of ownership over these disputed islands is superior to the claims of China. They maintain that we can never lose in an arbitration proceeding. It is because of this strength of position that we cannot expect China to enter into such a dispute resolution forum.

What then is the signification of the Chinese president's words opposing the "wilful use or threat of force"? To Japan, these are words of caution. Even if they are both capable of engaging in war, China and Japan's use of military force can so inflict mutual destruction to them that they better avoid it. But to a small country, like ours, the statement of the Chinese leader is more than saber-rattling. Coupled with the fact that they are now in brisk pace to finish their construction in the disputed islands, they are actually telling us not to mess with them or else. Para nako, considering that the outlawry of war remains an unreachable ideal, bahala na ug patay, let us not give away an ounce of our national dignity nor an inch of our national territory!

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