WHAT is it to belong to the global commons? Some Filipinos have remained neutral on the issue of territorial and maritime disputes with China. Most of the Filipinos thought that things will pan out to the interests of both parties since we have a shared history what with the Philippines being a haven to Chinese families who left the mainland for various reasons. But the recent discoveries, although we know those were not built overnight, on the much advanced state of reclaimed facilities in disputed reefs, atolls and shoals speak ill of China.
China committed a serious crime against humanity by destroying the ecology around those reclaimed areas. In its persistence to prove its nine dash line concept, it disturbed the ecology, destroyed the habitat of what is termed as the global commons and compromised the future generations’ sustainable development.
In the hope of explaining things and lessen the anxieties caused by China’s unilateral action, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a news briefing that the “reclamation and building work in the Spratly archipelago of the South China Sea was needed partly because of the risk of typhoons in an area with a lot of shipping that is far from land.”
“We are building shelters, aids for navigation, search and rescue as well as marine meteorological forecasting services, fishery services and other administrative services” for China and neighboring countries, Hua said. The islands and reefs would also “meet the demands for China’s military defense,” Hua said without elaborating.
The South China Sea is a “marginal sea that is part of the Pacific Ocean, encompassing an area from the Singapore and Malacca Straits to the Strait of Taiwan of around 3,500,000 square kilometers (1,400,000 sq mi). The area’s importance largely results from one-third of the world’s shipping transiting through its waters, and that it is believed to hold huge oil and gas reserves beneath its seabed.”
“In China, it is called the “South Sea”, Nánhǎi, and in Vietnam the “East Sea”, Biển Đông. In Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, it was long called the “South China Sea” (Dagat Timog Tsina in Tagalog, Laut China Selatan in Malay), with the part within Philippine territorial waters often called the “Luzon Sea”, Dagat Luzon, by the Philippines. However, following an escalation of the Spratly Islands dispute in 2011, various Philippine government agencies started using the name “West Philippine Sea”. In September 2012, BSA 3rd signed Administrative Order No. 29, mandating that all government agencies use the name “West Philippine Sea” to refer to the parts of the South China Sea within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, and tasked the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) to use the name in official maps.”
China, by reclaiming the atolls, shoals and reefs destroyed hundred million years of habitat created by the movement of seas and submerged lands as well as mountains. That China, without due regard to the global commons arrogated to itself the right to destroy these resources by reclaiming the seabed and parts of the strobe rock formations submerged has clearly committed a crime against humanity. China crossed the fine line by invoking its right over global commons, where all living and non-living resources belong to all.
The term “global commons” is typically used to indicate the earth’s shared natural resources, such as the deep oceans, the atmosphere, outer space and the Northern and Southern polar regions, the Antarctic in particular.
According to the World Conservation Strategy, a report on conservation published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) in collaboration with UNESCO and with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF):”A commons is a tract of land or water owned or used jointly by the members of a community. The global commons includes those parts of the Earth’s surface beyond national jurisdictions — notably the open ocean and the living resources found there — or held in common — notably the atmosphere. The only landmass that may be regarded as part of the global commons is Antarctica …”
What are the implications of this unilateral act by China on the Philippines? Clearly, it impacts on our national security, food security and energy security. One can consider these acts by China a national crisis on the part of the Philippines. Diplomacy is the way to go but creating a countervailing force in the region is vital. Japan, India, Asean are critical actors in this regional flashpoint. An economic coalition via the Trans-Pacific Partnership can also bring a much needed balance against the biggest market of China. Constructive ownership should be implemented by the Philippines so we do not lose by default. Back channel negotiations should be considered despite the several failures. We just cannot afford a military option against a giant acting more and more like a bully.
The other side of the coin is that the release of these reclamation activities in contested areas is said to be made to influence the Supreme Court on the pending constitutional issue of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA. After the AFP chief released the photos and a few percolation hence, Gen. Gregorio Catapang issued a statement that “US troops will have access to at least 8 Philippine military bases under EDCA. The military bases include: Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija; Crow Valley in Tarlac; Basa Air Base in Pampanga; Naval Station San Miguel in Zambales;
Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan; Naval Station Carlito Cunanan in Palawan; Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu and Naval Base Rafael Ramos in Cebu.”
Truly, China should have known that “it is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.” At the global stage, China is fast losing the possibility of being world leader.