• How to deal with China’s war warning


    Ricardo Saludo

    FOR starters, let’s be clear about one thing: Most nations would use force to defend their territory. So, when Chinese President Xi Jinping talked of war if the Philippines conducted activities that intrude into what China claims as its sovereign waters, it can be seen as giving fair warning.

    Which is what the Philippines did six years ago, and not in a closed-door conference with a visiting leader, but in the most important policy speech delivered every year.

    In July 2011, then-President Benigno Aquino 3rd said in his second State of the Nation Address no less: “We do not wish to increase tensions with anyone, but we must let the world know that we are ready to protect what is ours.”

    To thunderous applause in the cavernous Batasan hall, Aquino further declared: “There was a time when we couldn’t appropriately respond to threats in our own backyard. Now, our message to the world is clear: What is ours is ours; setting foot on Recto Bank is no different from setting foot on Recto Avenue.”

    At the time, there was a recent incident in Recto Bank, internationally known as Reed Bank, when Chinese vessels confronted an oil exploration ship authorized by the Philippines, which then sent two military planes in response.

    Aquino also talked of getting new weaponry in addition to a US Coast Guard Hamilton-class cutter just handed down from America: “We may acquire more vessels in the future, these in addition to helicopters and patrol craft.”

    The Presidential Management Staff report accompanying Aquino’s Congress speech added that “a joint maritime force (sea-air) is being restructured to carry out missions in the West Philippines Sea to protect vital resources and sea exploration activities. At the same time, initiatives are being made to revive the Air Defense Organization focused on the airspace of priority areas in western Philippines.”

    Imagine if then-Chinese President Hu Jintao made similar statements to thunderous acclaim at the National People’s Congress.

    Many Filipinos, of course, will insist that we have the right to use force against foreign interlopers in what we consider our territory. But then, rival claimants can make the same argument, right?

    In court we trust
    The difference between Aquino and Xi’s statements, China critics may argue, is that the latter was made in reference to the Philippines exercising its sovereign maritime rights as affirmed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling in The Hague last July.

    The PCA declared that under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), whose provisions both China and the Philippines accepted by ratification, Beijing’s so-called “nine-dash line” claim over most of the South China Sea, is invalid.

    On the other hand, the court affirmed our sovereign rights over our exclusive economic zone, 200 nautical miles from our territorial baseline and extended continental shelf, 320 nm out. A country has exclusive rights to exploit resources in the waters and seabed of its EEZ, and over the seabed alone in its ECS.

    Hence, Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario want President Rodrigo Duterte, who recounted Xi’s war talk last week, to take China to court for allegedly threatening war against the Philippines’ exercise of sovereign rights stipulated in UNCLOS and backed by the July 2016 arbitral decision.

    So, is that the way to get China to work with us in sorting out our territorial issues? Go to court again, even if we don’t have the guns or the international backing to enforce any ruling in our favor?

    Or is it better to do as we have done in the past month: Take a conciliatory approach both in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in late April, and in bilateral talks in Beijing on our maritime disputes.

    Here’s what Asean and the Philippines has gotten so far with their friendly approach: agreement on the framework for a binding Asean-China Code of Conduct on disputed areas in the South China Sea, and the terms of reference for maritime security and cooperation between China and the Philippines.

    The right way to secure our nation
    Will going to international court top that? Or will it just undo all that progress?

    In fact, after initially criticizing President Duterte last year for not pressing Beijing on the Hague decision, international experts came around and admitted that his fence-mending manner actually got China to implement key provisions of the ruling, including letting Filipino fishermen back to Scarborough Shoal, off limits since Beijing wrested it from Philippine control in 2012.

    To be sure, we don’t know how Duterte’s friendly approach would turn out for the Philippines in the long run. But we don’t have to guess what Aquino’s tough talk and legal action got us.

    Since his 2011 SONA about defending Recto Bank, we lost Scarborough Shoal, and lost out on Chinese aid and investment pouring into the rest of Asean. We shamed China in The Hague, but no nation cared to join us in enforcing the PCA decision.

    Even the Seventh Fleet would not fight at our side unless we were suicidal enough to provoke the People’s Liberation Army to attack us. (When President-elect Duterte asked if America would defend us, then-Ambassador Philip Goldberg said: “Only if you are attacked.”)

    Even worse, after Aquino opened the archipelago to massive US military deployment with access to bases under his Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with Washington, the looming American threat to vital shipping in the South China Sea, including 80 percent of Chinese oil imports, led Beijing to build military-capable installations on artificial islands for the protection of its sea lanes.

    Now, how is all that supposed to be better than President Duterte’s independent foreign policy, yielding tens of billions of dollars in assistance and investment, plus important agreements for Asean and the Philippines?

    It may look like capitulation to critics, but the right way to go for the Philippines may just be to bide our time and build our economy and military, so that several years from now, we are truly ready to protect what is ours.


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    1. This is my personal view only and with no intent to debate others who may have diametrically opposed opinion on this issue. These areas which we are claiming to be ours have been in existence since time in memorial and if there was a foresight of this government many decades ago while the PH-US Military Bases was still existing, it was a public knowledge that South China Sea was an open area which was then the lagoon of the Naval Ships of the US Seventh Fleet.During the US Military presence in the area based in our homeland, we should have gotten all the opportunities to occupy, develop and explore the marine and land resources within our legal limits as China’s interference by that time doesn’t yet exists.Moreover, we got all the bargaining power with the US by that time. Unfortunately, our agreement was terminated and the US left us defenseless having not even foreseen its disadvantages.Then China came in and we scrambled for help but did anyone help us? None and some of our neighbors have even overlapping claims. US? Under our Treaty, US will intervene if we are attacked but to stop China for building structures in the area is not within such agreement as it has nothing to do on territorial jurisdiction. We went to the International Arbitration Court and UNCLOS rendered a favorable Decision on the part of PH but up to now, no country or international body has the power to enforce it. The UNCLOS Decision is so bitter to China having no respect to it and arguing with this piece of paper only antagonizes this big power and to refresh our memory, we were subjected to unbearable bullying helplessly until the new President of this Republic made a different approach to momentarily ease out the tension. What is important now is the opening of a friendly avenue of communication wherein in the future there is a possibility that we will not be at a total loss rather than the past adversarial approach.We must hope for the wisdom of our President to eventually seek the path to the advantage of this country..

    2. Did the war threat exchange happen in the first place? I submit it did not:

      1. The Chinese president would not have used the week of the launching of One Belt One Door (OBOR) to issue war threats . OBOR was the coming out party of China aimed at showcasing economic and trade cooperation as an instrument for enhancing its regional and international stature. Threat of the use of force is anathema to this strategic objective.

      2. War threat is contrary to Deng Xiao Peng’s exhortation ” to hide your strength ,bide your time, and be doubly understanding of nations much weaker than we are . . . ”

      3. Indeed, President Duterte has been saying he would revive the matter of the Hague Tribunal ruling at an appropriate time, mentioning the ruling at that occasion he claimed he did spoke volume of Duterte’s sense of timing and knowledge of Chinese traditions and strategic aspirations.

    3. Boss Ric, parang pinapalabas mo naman lahat ng actions China ay kasalanan ng Pilipinas. Para naman pinawalan sala mo ang China sa pandarambong sa teritoryo natin. Which side are you on????

      • Salamat sa pahayag mo, Fugopeta. (Thank you for your comment, Fugopeta.)

        Saan ko po sinabi na walang sala ang Tsina? Ibinigay ko ang ilang dahilan ng mga pagkilos ng Tsina, na siya ring dahilan ng ilang pagkilos ng Pilipinas, gaya ng babala ni Pangulong Aquino sa kanyang SONA.

        (Where did the article say that China was not at fault? I gave some reasons for Chinese actions, which are the same reasons for Philippine actions like President Aquino’s warning in his SONA.)

        Sa diplomasya, hindi lang tama at mali ang dapat isaisip, kundi ang mga dahilan ng pagkilos ng mga bansa, at ang resulta ng iba’t-ibang panukala. Ngayon, anong panukala ang nagbunga ng mas mabuti para sa Pilipinas at Asean — ang pakikipagtunggali ni Aquino o ang pakikipagkasundo ni Duterte?

        (In diplomacy, it’s not just right and wrong that must be considered, but the reasons behind the actions of nations, and the results of various policies. Now, which policy has yield more good for the Philippines and Asean, Aquino’s confrontational approach or Duterte’s conciliatory tack?)

        Salamat muli. (Thanks again.)

    4. Salamat sa komento mo, MGA_IMBENTO. (Thank you for your comment, MGA_IMBENTO.)

      Hindi ko sinabing walang magagawa ang Pilipinas para ipagtanggol ang ating karapatan bilang bansa. (I never said we can do nothing to defend our sovereign rights as a country.)

      Sa katunayan, marami na akong nasulat tungkol sa mga hakbang upang ipagsanggalang ang ating teritoryo at karagatan. (In fact, I have written a lot about how we can defend our territory and maritime areas.)

      Heto ang ilang nasulat ko tungkol dito. (Here are some of my articles on the subject.)


      Maraming salamat muli. (Thanks again.)

    5. Just like a Goliath who dares anyone courageous enough among King Saul’s army to face him in a combat where winner takes all, the Intsik has all the gall to intimidate poor Asean neighbors with war. So? Will a David come out? David stands for a collectivity of Filipino patriotic leaders who have in their heart an unselfish love of country and a wisdom of the kind Solomon possessed. Add to that leadership a highly disciplined people that does not cower before the noisy and arrogant bully from mainland China. We need to win the war raging deep within us before we’re truly ready to wage war outside us.

    6. Hope sana wag nyo delete message ko:

      May kulang sa argumento nyo.. ang hindi nyo nabanggit eh, ang teritoryo kinuha sa atin ng China ay NAPAKALAPIT PO SA PILIPINAS… in the first place dapat wala dapat ang China sa mga isla na ito dahil MILYA MILYA layo nya dito, so in other words.. intruder po sila. Kung sino man dapat pwede mag angas dito eh tayo dahil atin naman talaga sya, ngayon tanong ko lang. sakali gusto na tayuan ng CHINA ang panatag shoal ng structures ,Sasabihin nyo pa din ba mga argumento nyo na argumento din ni Duterte na makipag kaibigan tayo sa CHINA? At kung pumalag si Duterte eh d GERA d ang bagsak natin. Ang totoo katrayduran mga sinasabi nyo. Dont condition our minds na WALA TAYO LABAN SA CHINA, dahil kayo lang mga Duwag at hindi mga Pilipino ang wala magagawa sa CHINA.

      • Dong gumamit ka din ng utak. Kung nabasa mo at naintindihan ang artikulo, naintindihan mo sana na ang yabang ang nagpahamak at magpapahamak sa atin. Ang d mo rin nabanggit ay ang realidad at kapasidad ng Pilipinas natin NGAYON!