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Opinion

Government’s confusing position with China

FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras - The Freeman

China’s encroachments in the West Philippine Sea is one of the five issues in the coming May elections, according to last month’s poll survey. The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has lodged more than 200 diplomatic protests, the latest about the near collision of the Coast Guard vessels of the two countries, with the Chinese embassy reprimanding the Philippine government, telling it to avoid entering the Chinese-claimed territorial waters. Duterte’s recent statement on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in which he opined that an escalation of the conflict may embolden China to invade Taiwan and involve the Philippines, indicates a tame and docile posture of our government towards China. Last week, the Philippines had another joint military exercise with the US (Balikatan), involving 10,000 naval and ground troops in accordance with the Mutual Defense Treaty with the US government, which was, as usual, objected by China. And in the United Nations General Assembly, the Philippines condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine while China abstained.

The Philippine government’s pronouncements on China in the Duterte administration has been unclear, ambivalent, urong-sulong, and blowing hot and cold. These were supposed to project an independent foreign policy and obtain benefits from both the China/Russia axis and the western democratic countries. So, while the DFA has been protesting Chinese incursions and aggressive statements, Duterte has been praising and making meek statements about Chinese drug cartels, criminal/gambling syndicates, and onerous financial transactions. Our Department of National Defense (DND), He objects to the Chinese naval incursion but allows the installation of Chinese communication facilities in their basecamps, while continuing to procure and accept US, Japanese, and South Korean military equipment. Citing Chinese donations, investments and tourists as advantageous to the country, Duterte has been belittling the Philippine’s winning the UNCLOS decision junking China’s claim on the West Philippine Sea, which he had promised to uphold during his campaign. Lately, in the final days of his presidency, he now wants to uphold the UNCLOS decision.

Then, there is the issue of the government’s treatment of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) which is an ideological ally of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The government is taking a hard line on CPP militarily, and even red tagging some progressive civil groups perceived sympathetic to the group, and yet the CCP is very silent on this issue.

The problem with the Philippine government’s confused strategy is that it did not really benefit the government and the country. Chinese investments and soft loans to the Philippines are fourth after Japan, the US, and Europe. China has built permanent structures in the Philippine territorial waters, prevented oil exploration in the area, and prohibited Filipino fishermen from fishing in their traditional fishing grounds. Indonesia and Vietnam are doing a better job at deterring Chinese intrusion into their territorial waters while at the same time getting more loans and investments from the Chinese, the Americans, and the Europeans.

The Philippine Constitution makes the president the main architect of our foreign policies, and Duterte will have a Zoom conference with China President Xi Jingping on April 8, at the instance of the Chinese government. While Duterte has not been known to always listen to advice from his cabinet, at this time of the Ukraine military and the economic crisis that is affecting the whole world, and with less than three months to the end of his term, it would be prudent to avoid commitments.

The next president will have to develop a principled foreign policy anchored on the Filipinos’ democratic traditions and aspirations. So, we hope and pray that we elect a knowledgeable and competent president in the May 2022 election.

WEST PHILIPPINE SEA

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