TOKYO: President Benigno Aquino 3rd on Wednesday likened present-day China to Nazi Germany during a speech in Japan, hinting the world cannot continue to appease Beijing as it claims ever-more territory in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).The comments come as disquiet grows over the quickening pace of China’s land reclamation program in international waters, including its construction of a runway long enough for large military planes.
“If there was a vacuum, if the United States, which is the superpower, says, ‘We are not interested,’ perhaps there is no brake to ambitions of other countries,” Aquino told an audience of business leaders in Tokyo when asked about China’s rising might and the role of the US in checking it.
“I’m an amateur student of history and I’m reminded of… how Germany was testing the waters and what the response was by various other European powers,” he said, referring to the Nazis’ territorial conquests in the months before the outbreak of World War II.
“They tested the waters and they were ready to back down if, for instance, in that aspect, France said [to back down].
“But unfortunately, up to the annexation of the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia, the annexation of the entire country of Czechoslovakia, nobody said stop.
“If somebody said stop to [Adolf] Hitler at that point in time, or to Germany at [the]time, we would have avoided World War II.”
Aquino, who is in Japan on a four-day visit, previously made similar comments comparing China’s actions with those of the Third Reich.
“At what point do you say, ‘Enough is enough?’ Well, the world has to say it – remember that the Sudetenland was given in an attempt to appease Hitler to prevent World War II,” he told the New York Times last year.
That provoked fury in Beijing, which labeled the Philippine President “amateurish,” “ignorant” and “lame.”
Aquino’s comments on Wednesday came after US President Barack Obama this week weighed in on the growing tensions in the South China Sea, urging regional powers — particularly China — to respect the law and stop “throwing elbows.”
China has rejected US demands to stop all reclamation works in the South China Sea, saying it was exercising its sovereignty and using the outposts to fulfill international responsibilities.
Beijing insists that it has sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, a major global shipping route believed to be home to oil and gas reserves, but rival claimants accuse it of expansionism.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Taiwan also have varied claims over islets and reefs in the area.
Despite its relatively weak economy and the poor state of its military, the Philippines has been the most vocal country in the region in its criticism of China.
The Association for Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), a 10-strong regional bloc, has struggled to come to a consensus, with China exploiting divisions and exercising its economic might.
Washington and its Asian allies, including Tokyo, which has separate territorial dispute with Beijing in the East China Sea, have warned that ignoring international laws could threaten “the freedom of navigation.”
The Chinese military last month ordered a US Navy P-8 Poseidon surveillance plane to leave an area near the disputed Spratly islands in the South China Sea. But the American aircraft ignored the demand and said it was flying in what US officials consider international airspace.
Aquino is not the first global leader to make comparisons between East Asia’s present situation and global conflicts of last century.
Early last year, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe caused controversy by appearing to suggest Tokyo and Beijing were analogous to Britain and Germany on the eve of World War I.
The Japanese government later played down the comments, which were widely reported, blaming a translator.
Speaking to Japanese reporters, Aquino asked China to “reexamine” its reclamation efforts in the South China Sea, saying such action raises tensions in disputed territories there.
He reiterated that China’s action violates the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which prohibits moves that could stir tensions and change the status quo in the contested areas.
“[These] reclamation effort[s]seem to go against both the letter of this agreement entered into, as well as the spirit of the law. We reiterate, we ask China: Is this a necessary step?” Aquino said.
“And if stability is a necessary prerequisite to prosperity for all, and if prosperity for all our peoples is the be-all and end-all of any government, then perhaps they should reexamine all of these efforts and see whether or not this is necessary given the increasing tensions that are happening because of these activities,” he added.
The President said maintaining an open sea lane in the South China Sea is very important to continued regional growth.
“In the sea known by many names, estimated by some to facilitate the travel of about 40 percent of world trade, Japan has been steadfast in demonstrating its solidarity with the Philippines as we advocate freedom of navigation and the rule of law in the face of China’s unlawful territorial claim,” Aquino noted.
“We are united in the belief that the continued growth of Asia necessitates an environment where freedom of navigation is uninterrupted, and where the rule of law is respected by all, with no exception,” he said.
Aquino reiterated the Philippines’ desire to resolve the issue in a peaceful manner. He thanked Japan for supporting Manila’s peaceful, lawful and principled approach in resolving the dispute.