Beyond helping the U.S. pursue its policy objective in its pivot to Asia and the Pacific region, Philippines-China relations should not be focused on the contested islands in the South China Sea but move on the more peaceful and constructive cooperative programs that are mutually beneficial.
Posted by CenPEG.org
March 3, 2014
There is much to worry in Armed Forces Chief of Staff (CS-AFP) Emmanuel Bautista’s delayed reporting about Chinese Coast Guards using water cannon against Filipino fishermen fishing in the Scarborough Shoal, who earlier told the Associated Press, that the Chinese claim to the islands just off the Philippine coast is “of course absolute nonsense and vowed to defend the country’s fishermen against any “terror or intimidation” in the South China Sea. Bautista told reporters that the Philippines would respond militarily if China uses forces to drive away Filipinos fishing in waters around a disputed island in the South China Sea.
Yet it took Bautista 28 days to tell the President and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) about the water cannon incident. Following Bautista’s announcement, Philippine Foreign Office summoned the Chinese Embassy charge d’affaires to transmit the country’s forceful protest over the incident. When asked by reporters why the delayed protest, Hernandez said that the Foreign Office was informed only “late last week.” And he added that though the incident was confirmed there was no documentary evidence.
The Foreign Office therefore needed more details and information to pursue its course of action. Even President Simeon Benigno Aquino III had questions and noted inconsistencies in Bautista’s report. Interviewed by the media in Cebu, where Aquino commemorated the 1986 EDSA People Power revolution, he said: “Medyo inconsistent rin yung nangyari dyan (The report has inconsistencies). We are not sure at this point in time if we can call it their standard operating procedure. Kasi as of yesterday, we had fishermen inside the shoal who are not being harassed or intimidated by any entity.” A Philippine Coast Guard source said that there were actually 14 fishing vessels by Filipino fishermen in the Scarborough Shoal on that day and only two were subjected to cannon spraying. The source added that the two vessels must have gone too close to the Chinese Coast Guard ship and spraying was a warning act.
There is much to worry in AFP chief Emmanuel Bautista’s delayed reporting about Chinese Coast Guards using water cannon against Filipino fishermen fishing in the Scarborough Shoal, who after not reporting the incident, told the Associated Press, that the Chinese claims to the islands just off the Philippine coast are “of course absolute nonsense” and vowed to defend the country’s fishermen against any “terror or intimidation” in the South China Sea. Bautista even declared that the Philippines would respond militarily if China uses force to drive away Filipinos fishing in waters around a disputed island in the South China Sea.
Precisely because of the delay and inconsistent report, there have been so many questions and speculations as to why and what really took place that led to the spraying. Some asked “What were the two Hamilton Cutters which have been turned into the country’s biggest naval vessels for patrolling the disputed waters and other military equipment purchased precisely to boost maritime force and security doing during the incident?” Still others inquired: “How come the U.S. intelligence network did not transmit or publicize the incident, when cyber security and information sharing have been the new focus of our relationship with the U.S., when in the past the U.S. transmits and publicizes with regularity any information about Chinese presence into the contested area?”
But the most disturbing speculation is that it was a failed undercover operation of the Philippine Naval Warfare Group, disguised as fishermen, ala United States Navy Seal special operations, intended to blow up one of the Chinese vessels, to show the world that despite lack of parity in military weaponry, the Philippines has others means of keeping the Chinese out of the Scarborough Shoal. The failed attempt led General Bautista to delay the report more than three weeks after the incident. In anticipation that the Chinese may suspect such a plot, he vowed to defend the country’s fishermen against any “terror or intimidation” in the South China Sea.
Clearly the standoff in sovereignty claim over the Scarborough Shoal will continue indefinitely and seemingly unlikely to be resolved if both sides continue to confront one another with force instead of peaceful negotiation. Behind the Philippine rejection of China’s offer of bilateral negotiation lies the U.S. offer of security umbrella and former State Secretary Hilary Clinton’s advice that smaller nations will be disadvantaged in a one-on-one negotiation with a big power like China. The presumption is that once the Philippines agrees to bilateral negotiation with China, it is under duress or obliged to accept Chinese terms.
But Clinton’s warning finds no confirmation in the more than 50 bilateral agreements the Philippines signed with China since the opening of diplomatic relations. It is only reasonable that the Philippines rely on its diplomatic record than listen to Clinton whose goal in its pivot to Asia was to use its allies to contain China. Moreover, Clinton, in giving the warning, was only projecting U.S. diplomatic strategy in negotiating with smaller nations like the Philippines, as in the U.S.-Philippine Trade Agreements where the U.S. imposed quota on Philippines exports but did not agree to any restriction on its exports to the Philippines. Again in the Philippine U.S. Military Bases Agreement, the Philippines had no legal jurisdiction over American military personnel who committed crimes against Filipinos inside the bases. It took several negotiations for the Americans to fly the Philippine flag in the bases. The Visiting Forces Agreement while it was ratified by the Philippines Senate, was not ratified by the U.S. Senate.
And assuming that there is an element of truth in Clinton’s warning the Philippines can always withdraw or cancel the talks. But beyond helping the U.S. pursue its policy objective in its pivot to Asia and the Pacific region, Philippines-China relations should not be focused on the contested islands in the South China Sea but move on the more peaceful and constructive cooperative programs that are mutually beneficial. The Philippines in view of its need to develop its economy and provide jobs for millions of Filipinos and in view of China’s phenomenal rise as the world’s second largest economy next to the U.S., as the world manufacturing center, and as the world’s biggest exporting country, can engage in more mutually beneficial cooperative endeavors than threaten to go to war against one another over a few pieces of rock. Posted by CenPEG.org