All about the fish
TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag (The Freeman) - July 1, 2019 - 12:00am

When President Rodrigo Duterte, early in his term, told his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping that someday he will have to assert the Philippine claim to parts of the South China Sea and Xi answered matter-of-factly that, if that is the case, then he will have go to war, it is foolhardy for anyone to try and second-guess Xi's seriousness.

Of course, China will go to war over the South China Sea. It will sooner go to war over this relatively small patch of salty water than even the several islands and land-locked territories over which its claims have in fact had testy military confrontations with other claimants such as Japan and India.

For these pieces of real estate are just territories. And history is replete with accounts of territories gained and territories lost. Borders get altered and redefined all the time because of this endless cycle of territorial gains and losses. In the end, it is not the configuration of land that defines a country but the people who live in it.

As for the South China Sea, China does not look at it from a territorial perspective, its nine-dash claim notwithstanding. For China, the South China Sea means survival. The South China Sea is China's only viable fishing ground. It is its main fishing resource. With 1.3 billion mouths to feed, Xi could not have been joking when he said he will go to war if pushed on the matter.

And that is why I find it incredible that some Filipinos just do not get it or are unwilling to give their very own president the benefit of the doubt. More than the leader of any other country in the world, it was our president who dared tell Xi to his face what his intentions were. And it was to our president's face that Xi told what China would do in response.

There can be no more brutally frank exchange between leaders than that. No couching in diplomatic niceties. No euphemistic beating around the bush. No befuddling between the lines. No ambiguity but just the cold bare facts. Yet some Filipinos just do not get it that their president got it.

And so, instead of praising Duterte for trying to squeeze what he can out of such dire circumstances, they continue to push him into making a move from which there is no turning back. They talk about legality or the lack of it, of unconstitutionality, of nationalism, of pride, of impeachment. Nobody seems willing to talk about the wages of war.

China has no need for a costly war if it can rule the world economically. But it will not hesitate to go to war if its own survival is at stake. China needs the South China Sea not for territorial expansion or military domination. It needs it to feed 1.3 billion people, a number that, if allowed to go hungry, can prove very dangerous for its very own existence. It's really all about the fish.

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