• COMMENTARY

    Can we talk to China on West Philippine Sea?

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    Second of a series

    WE made our trip to Beijing and met with Madam Fu Ying, then-Deputy Foreign Minister of China, in the morning of May 29 at the office of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Domingo Lee and Madam Fu were old acquaintances since the Deputy Foreign Minister had served as Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines. Madam Fu was accompanied by three assistants in that meeting, including Hong Liang, deputy director-general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Asian Department.

    As soon as we were seated and even before we stated the purpose of our visit, Madam Fu started to talk about the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China. She said that historical records dated back to the 13th century Yuan Dynasty clearly indicated that China had ownership over the islands and shoals in South China Sea. She also mentioned that the 19th century treaties between Spain and the US specified the territorial boundaries of the Philippines, and “Huang Yan Island” (Panatag) is out of the boundaries. She showed us maps to strengthen her point.

    Although I was not authorized to talk on behalf of the Philippines, I felt that I should not keep my silence after listening to Madam Fu. I begged to disagree with her and said that no matter how many historical records China could produce to prove that certain Chinese seafarers and adventurists had landed on Panatag Island hundreds of years ago, a simple fact is that geographically, the island is located only 120 nautical miles from the Philippine shores. I commented that history is written by men but geography is created by God. Filipinos are God-fearing people and they believe that Panatag Shoal is a territory God has created for them.

    Madam Fu reasoned out that Filipinos should not expect the Chinese government to disclaim the Huang Yan Island. She commented that if the Chinese leaders give up the island, they would be condemned for being “irresponsible to the Chinese history and betraying their ancestors.” I told Madam Fu that in the same manner, the Chinese people should not expect the Filipino leaders to disclaim sovereignty over the Panatag Shoal, otherwise these Filipino officials would be accused of being “irresponsible to the Filipino people and even betraying God.”

    Admitting that the territorial sovereignty over Huang Yan Island (Panatag Shoal) and the other disputed South China Sea islands is an issue that both the Filipinos and Chinese would not compromise, Madam Fu then stated the policy of the Chinese government which suggested that both parties should set aside the territorial disputes and resolve to develop the disputed islands jointly and share the resources. She offered that both the Philippines and China should abide by this principle and work out an arrangement for mutual benefits. Mr. Lee promised to convey this proposal to President Aquino.

    Madam Fu drew a sketch on a piece of paper, showing the “half-moon” shape of Panatag Shoal encompassing a lagoon that is like a natural typhoon shelter. She told us that over 50 Chinese fishing boats were fishing inside the lagoon when the Philippine naval vessel tried to arrest them. Some fishing boats fled and around 20 boats remained in the lagoon. Madam Fu said the Philippine naval boat was still inside the lagoon while the two Chinese Marine Surveillance vessels were docked outside the lagoon but near the entrance, closely watching the movements of the Philippine naval vessel. She told us that the Chinese fishermen agitated for the Chinese Marine vessels to go inside the lagoon in order to protect them from being arrested by the Philippine navy, but the Chinese government did not heed the demand of the Chinese fishermen, knowing that once the Chinese official boats sailed inside the lagoon, the conflict between the two countries would escalate immediately. Madam Fu asked Mr. Lee if he could request President Aquino to order the withdrawal of the Philippine naval boat from the Panatag lagoon and, on the other hand, the Chinese government would promise not to send any official vessel inside the lagoon. Again, Mr. Lee told the Chinese Deputy Minister that he would convey the message to President Aquino.

    Esteban G. Pena Sy is a student of Asian Studies. He is also formerly president of the UP Asian Center Students’ Association and a former lecturer at the University of the Philippines.

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