THE President and his men should pause and evaluate their present policy on China and disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea. If the objectives are to assert our ownership claim and to make China back off, then we have clearly failed. Instead of pulling back, China has ramped up its encroachment, even reclaiming waters around reefs and shoals near our mainland. Policy experts and security strategists should ask hard questions. Are we making progress toward attaining our objectives? Does our litigious strategy have any chance given Beijing’s refusal to recognize anything but bilateral negotiations? Do our actions steer the stakeholders in this region to a path toward an arms race and greater instability around vital sea lanes?
If the objective is to raise global awareness of China’s actions, then President Aquino’s team has done that. But that is not a viable aim. Note that even US President Barack Obama has criticized China’s bullying. So, what now? Would it help the Philippines to have more international pressure on China? We doubt it. Now the Philippines is poised again to urge Asean to come out against the Chinese. First, we doubt that China will be moved by public declarations alone. Second, Asean will not unite against China. Not that our regional neighbors are afraid, but other Asean member states will not likely allow our territorial disputes to overshadow their broader political and economic interests in China.
In fact, we believe that the Philippine government should not allow the territorial disputes to define our relations with China. The President should convene the best and brightest, if only to assess what have we gained (and lost) and to map out a new policy and strategic direction from hereon. Palace officials have rejected suggestions to convene the National Security Council. Granted, the NSC may be the wrong group to consult because our military options are limited. We hope that the President will consult with many other experts. He should do so soon, because his actions have not only failed to bring the disputed territories closer to Philippine control, but they have also driven further away a strategic partner.
Like it or not, we have to live with China, the rising global military and economic power. Relations between our peoples predate the colonial period, and even in modern times, Chinese blood runs through the veins of most Filipinos – including the President’s. Indeed, it is ironic that the President’s mother was celebrated for re-kindling family ties with Chinese kin on the mainland and now her son has managed to alienate China to a point where international mediation is being sought.
To be fair to the present BS Aquino administration, Filipinos must realize that the problem of how to deal with China started even before the President was born. And between 1946 and today, the Chinese have been creeping ever closer to the Philippine mainland, albeit at a much faster pace since he took office in 2010. Before his term ends, though, we hope that the President rethinks his approach to China.
We do not pretend to know the answers, but the experts might. What we do know is that the status quo is unacceptable. We know that waiting for the world to rescue us is unrealistic.
And we know that continuing to do the same things until 2016 and expecting different results is, to put it mildly, crazy.