How to win with China?

FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras - The Freeman

I was slightly hesitant to write about the United Nations Tribunal arbitration decision win of the Philippines on the encroachment of China on the Philippines exclusive economic zone, as there had been already a lot of comments from all sectors including international legal experts, ministers of geographically affected and unaffected countries, columnists and other writers of note.

I had however wrote about this issue more than a year ago in my column where I proposed that the Philippines should "declare war" with China so that we will get the world attention and media exposure on this problem while the arbitration proceedings are ongoing.

The Tribunal's very emphatic decision in favor of the Philippines last week did get us the world's attention and media mileage, but did not budge China or stopped their construction and activities in the area.

The other reason I decided to write about this South China Sea decision is because our government officials need all the inputs from all sectors of Philippine society to guide them on how to proceed and/or engage China on this tribunal decision.

Newspaper editors and columnists, by virtue of their training and exposure are really a good source of inputs since they get a feel of the public pulse and are used to viewing issues from multiple sides. Serendipitously, I was involved in many strategic planning for long gestation infrastructure projects and had attended a number of seminars or sessions where scenario building and thinking the unthinkable were part of the output. So I would like to weigh in my two cents worth of opinion on this matter.

Other than China's encroachment on the 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, the tribunal also castigated China for the ecological damage that they have done on the coral reefs, when they dredge the corals to make the man-made islands. They were also cited and judged on their illegal prevention of the Filipino fishermen from fishing in the Philippine territorial waters and on the international waters. The decisions were all against China, but then it is all a moral victory since China does not accept or recognize the decisions even if they are signatory to the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

How to win with China? Take note that I use "win with China" and not "win over China." This is because there is no way to win over China, and the only way to proceed is to have The Philippines and China both come out as winners. There is also no way to rush this issue into settlement. It will take time and we have to make use of the time to get the sentiment of the governments of the countries in the area and of the world.

We will even have to get the views and sentiments of the United Nations, the Asean organizations, and all other country and multilateral groupings. It might even be a good idea to sound off the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly. These consultations should even be done before initiating bilateral talks with China, as the inputs will be invaluable in the bilateral talks.

While it has been suggested that the minimum position of the Philippines should be the respect of the EEZ, there are ways to get this position without totally precluding joint exploration. These long consultation processes will also allow the Philippines to further explain its position to the whole global community, on the need for a global legal framework which should be respected and adhered to avoid conflict escalation. The destruction of the coral reefs should also be cited as a crime not just against a country, but a global crime against humanity as it affects the whole world for many years in the future.

Understanding the motives of the Chinese government in the expansion push of their territorial waters is also important in resolving this problem. Territorial expansion is a natural tendency of a growing economic power as has been demonstrated over the last hundreds of years. Rekindling patriotism among the people to divert attention during economic recessions is also a valid motivation. And securing sources of minerals and raw materials for continued economic growth is a good rationale. These are all powerful drivers for governments to overreach to appease the governed and stay in power.

However, the advent of new technologies, especially in the information and communication technologies, have altered the sources of wealth and power not just in terms of material wealth but also in terms of intellectual and technological assets. Now it is not just in "geo-political" terms but also in "geo-technological-ecological-political" terms. This is something for China to ponder.

In a bestseller book last year, there were two chapters which explained how to fight with giants. I remember a portion where it explained how Goliath really did not have a chance in the fight with David. Goliath was a hormonally imbalanced overgrown man who was not agile enough to fight so it was really easy for David to defeat him.

I'm sure the Chinese have already read the book so this will not be useful anymore. There are still other algorithms that can be made on how the Philippines should proceed in dealing with China, but since it is a think tank imperative to keep your cards close to your chest, we will leave it at that.

But let me leave you with an unverified quote from Deng Xiao Ping, the Premier of China after Mao Tse Tung, who was responsible for China's galloping economic growth in the past 30 years. And I quote, "If one day China should change her color and turn into a superpower, if she too should play the tyrant in the world and everywhere subject others to her bullying, aggression, and exploitation, the people of the world should identify her social imperialism, expose it, oppose it and work together with the Chinese people to overthrow it ("Deng Xiao Ping speech at the United Nations, April 10, 1974).


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