Xi Jinping, China’s supreme leader, has learned a valuable lesson from Vladimir Putin. Annexing territories, like what Mr. Putin did with Crimea in March of 2014, is always a win-win thing. After the annexation of Crimea and the balkanization of Ukraine, Mr. Putin’s political stock did not only rise. There was an unexpected but valuable bonanza.
The hard-core nationalists in the then broad anti-Putin coalition broke ranks with Kasparov et al and dropped their opposition. They later joined the choirboys that heaped praises on Putin for expanding what they saw was a diminished Russian republic and integrating Crimea, with its population dominated by ethnic Russians, into the Russian mainstream. There were intellectuals among the new Putin converts and they wrote glowingly on how Putin has shored up the Russian pride. Since 1954, the year Russia gave up Crimea and Ukraine took possession, there have been rumblings within Russia on the folly of that decision.
After 60 years, the nationalists realized their long-held dream via Putin’s move—the reintegration of Crimea into Russia.
Annexation, as Mr. Xi has learned from Mr. Putin, not only raises the stature of a leader. Even the harshest critics from within are won over and converted to the cause. You get more territory and the internal opposition is diminished.
We can use the language of everyday conversation to describe the overall policy of strongmen like Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin: Territory pa more.
This background is provided to magnify how unhinged from reality was the statement of Mr. Roque, the presidential spokesman, on the artificial islands being built by China in the West Philippine Sea.
Mr. Roque, vexed by mid-morning blues or unknown origin, blurted out what could turn out to be the official nonsense of the year – that someday the Philippines will thank China for building artificial islands on the West Philippine Sea, for these islands would eventually revert back to Philippine possession.
It was good Sen. Poe woke the normally unflappable Mr. Roque from his midday torpor.
“Secretary Roque’s wishful thinking is like saying that a homeowner should be thankful to a gang of fully armed men who unlawfully intruded into his place for some time and made it their safe house, which in effect prevented other criminals from ransacking the same,” the senator said.
The timely takedown was a classic. It temporarily halted the speedy churn of Mr. Roque’s spin machine.
Senator Poe was not done yet. She added: “And this comes with false hopes that the gang members will decide to give the house back, if they have not yet transferred the title under their name.”
All hell would have frozen over before China even toys with the idea of returning the military forts they have built on WPS. Sad but true.
Mr. Xi’s foreign policy lexicon, and the world except the Philippines knows this, does not include altruism. Mr. Roque should take that to heart. It is all about grabbing and annexing territories from weak countries like us. The abject timidity of the official Philippine response has emboldened Mr. Xi. After all those frenzied building in the West Philippine Sea, China is now targeting the Last Frontier – Benham Rise.
China is fully aware of the realities of the Benham Rise. It cannot invoke a sham nine-dash line to give its territorial grabbing a legal cover. Too risky and the world would unite against China if it physically occupies Benham Rise, just like what it did at the West Philippine Sea.
So, how does it go about coveting Benham Rise?
Subtly, through research, joint exploration and hydrographic surveys. Through sly maritime and fisheries visits. China’s maritime power has enabled its research and military vessels to probe into Benham Rise. The People’s Liberation Army’s hydrographic office probed Benham Rise and its riches in 2004, then proceeded to give Chinese names to some of the outstanding features of the Rise. Did the PLA just sneak into the Rise without permission? Or did some Vichy-like government official green-lighted the survey?
The vesting of Chinese names on the features of the Rise, after all those frenzied and naked grab of our territories, is akin to rubbing salt on an open wound. Our dignity as an independent nation, from China’s official stand, matters very little if it matters at all.
You know what patents are and how valuable these are? China’s official act of registering Chinese names on Benham features five and probably the richest features) with the International Hydrographic Organization is the equivalent of securing patents on these features. It was a subtle way of saying these are ours and these are our discoveries.
With these series of intrusions and abuse, our prostate reactions range from the wishful thinking of Mr. Roque to the mental conditioning that we should not protest too much because hordes of PLA, just like the Visigoth hordes of earlier times, may descend on our hapless country and turn us into siomai.
Self-defeating and self-defeatist.
Somewhere, sometime, somehow, we should rise from our prostrate attitude and get a spine. The battle, says the moral arc of history, is not always to the mighty.