60-40 or all-or-nothing
TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag (The Freeman) - September 13, 2019 - 12:00am

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has announced a new tack in the Chinese position with regard to its conflicting claims with the Philippines over portions of the South China Sea. The new Chinese direction supposedly emerged following Duterte's recent bilateral meeting in China with President Xi Jinping in the sidelines of the FIBA World Cup hosted by that country.

China reportedly expressed willingness to conduct joint exploration and exploitation of mineral resources inside the Philippines' very own Exclusive Economic Zone, with the Philippines getting 60 percent of a 60-40 sharing scheme, provided it drops its claim to a favorable international arbitral court ruling granting the Philippines that very same Exclusive Economic Zone.

The problem had been that China claims almost the whole of the South China Sea and recognizes neither the Exclusive Economic Zones of other countries in the area nor the arbitral ruling actually and expressly granting the Philippines such an Exclusive Economic Zone. Told early on that he may have to invoke the arbitral ruling someday, Xi told Duterte: "Then we will go to war!"

Those words had not been empty threats. China has, by actual deed, been harassing the Philippines, driving away Filipino fishermen fishing in our own waters, making naval incursions into our territories, and at one time actually driving away our "warships". Why, China actually stopped Philippine exploration for mineral resources in the area several years back.

So the situation is this: We cannot do what we ought to be able to do freely in the South China Sea as a sovereign nation because China will not allow us to. We can, as a sovereign nation, thrust our jaw at China and ignore its warnings. But that would risk possible war with China, a war we cannot hope to win, a war where we could lose so much more than we can ever hope to gain.

We cannot rely on the arbitral ruling because it is unenforceable. The UN cannot enforce it and the US is afraid of China. So the Philippines is truly on its own in dealing with China. And if it cannot measure up to the giant by force, then maybe the only way to deal with it is by means of wit. Smarts, in situations as tight as this, can sometimes be more valuable than pride.

I do not know how the nation proceeds from this. What is as clear as day to me is that our Exclusive Economic Zone is not as exclusive as it sounds if we still need to have the indulgence of China to do anything in it and with it. For all our crowing and breast-beating, what we have in the South China Sea means absolutely nothing if we have nothing to show for it.

For all intents and purposes, it is as if we do not have an Exclusive Economic Zone. And China knows it got us over the pickle barrel, hence the 60-40 offer. A 60-40 offer, even if we get the 60, is still grossly unfair because there ought to be no sharing in what is 100 percent ours in the first place. But what is ours is essentially in China's dictate. Do we get the 60 from our 100 or insist on our 100 and get nothing? I hate to be in Duterte's place.

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