No war this year in Southeast Asia

TO THE QUICK - Jerrt Tundag - The Freeman

You can wake up in the morning anytime this year and there will be no war in Southeast Asia. That is because the leaders of the two most powerful nuclear-powered countries in the world have spoken and decided to give peace another shot, at least within the coming months. The way they described "the coming months" seemed to me to mean something like from now on until just beyond the holidays.

But of course, when messages are as cryptic as this one went, everything is implied. And that means there will be no war if push does not come to shove. For the rest of the world, especially the Philippines which is a party to this Big Boys conflict, this is good enough to at least assure ourselves that no matter what Filipinos, all 110 million of them, will have a joyous Christmas and a blessed New Year.

The Philippines is especially happiest because of its increasingly dangerous relationship with China over conflicting claims in the South China Sea. The Philippines has been largely reliant in its face-off with China on assurances of assistance from the United States, based on provisions on a mutual defense treaty between the two Allied countries.

In the US-Philippines mutual defense treaty, the main proviso there is that "an attack on one is an attack on the other." That insures one will have to come to the other's aid in case of a military conflict. But the treaty is something China has been very careful in its actions against triggering. In its continued harassment of Filipinos, it stays clear of Philippine sovereign territory.

China is disrespecting other claimants in the South China Sea like the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei. It is disrespecting and harassing the Philippines in the latter's own West Philippines Sea, which comprises its exclusive economic zone as identified by the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea.

But Beijing has been very careful to keep away from the 12-mile sovereign territorial sea of the Philippines because if its intent in being there is to harass and not to gain innocent right of passage it can quickly trigger an invocation by the Philippines of its mutual defense treaty rights with the United States. And that could force the hand of the US to also consider it as an intrusion or an attack.

But let us shove it all aside first, we can even start thinking of Christmas now with the two leaders, Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, having personally met and talked on the sidelines of the APEC Summit in San Francisco the past week. There have been no details of their brief talks and nothing maybe expected in the coming days, if ever.

The details are not really necessary when the two leaders of the world's powers are just short of the brink to war. What is necessary is that they still managed to talk and in so doing opened up a valve to let off steam and that can go quite a way to build up again. The world has bought time for a little peace and what greater news could there be but that for Christmas.

As for Marcos, who himself had his own talk with Xi Jinping at a different occasion on the same sidelines of the APEC, had more than he can bargain for from the leader of the country whose Navy has been harassing and shaming his. As a mongo compared to a coconut, there is no shame in that. The harassment is where it is supposed to be. We can accept that.

But the danger part of an accident triggering an unprovoked shooting and thus an unwanted war is worse for the Philippines to take than for China to trigger. We cannot, in the future accounts of history, be held down to an unfortunate incident of triggering a war we did not choose. So with Marcos and Xi also talking about lowering of tensions, that is another part of the overall worry we can set aside.

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