AS he ascends the staircase of the palace a couple of months from now and enters his study, the new chief of state will immediately be greeted by important staff memos, the most important of which is the file marked foreign affairs that will be a brief on the powder keg in the West Philippine Sea and the simmering problem of peace and order in Mindanao which, unfortunately, has been internationalized. In treating these issues, it is hoped that the chief off state will be guided by the spirit of independence and nationalism while discarding the culture servility and mendicancy that has characterized our bilateral relations with our former colonizer. This is only in compliance with the constitutional mandate for the country, to pursue an independent foreign policy, the Constitution specifically states that in its relations with other nations that the paramount consideration shall be national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest and the right to self-determination.
It is to be noted that in the preservation of the integrity of the archipelago, the Constitution ordered that the government must preserve its domain as defined by the Treaty of Paris and historic treaties.
At a time when a neighboring country is nibbling at our national boundaries and a minority group is fighting for the creation of a sub-state, this mandate of the Constitution must be taken very seriously by the next tenant of Malacañang.
China has gained significant tactical advantage in the West Philippine Sea with its occupation of reefs and islets claimed by the Philippines in the face of the Obama pivot to Asia that involved the deployment of some 60 percent of US naval assets in the China Sea.
With the construction of structures on these islets, China is able to project its defense perimeter deep into the economic zones of the Philippines. Control of the Paracels, a base at Scarborough Shoal and the erection of facilities on Mischief Reef and Fiery Cross which can accommodate a complex of missile sites, fighter jets and surveillance stations will give China de facto control of larger swaths of airspace and water in the South China Sea. This development has caused much alarm in this country and those of its allies forcing this country to seek international arbitration and strengthen its alliance with the US through the EDCA.
How will standoff in the China Sea play out?
My best judgment is that China, having achieved a strategic advantage in the China Sea vis-à-vis the US and its allies, will now be wary about pushing the envelope farther since this would bring the standoff to the brink of war which in turn will work against China’s strategy to extend its soft power all over the world.
This soft power is designed to expand Chinese influence in Asia. Its reply to the US pivot to Asia through its “One Belt, One Road,” better known as modern-day Silk Road network which is intended for “five connections” with the world through trade, infrastructure, investment, capital and people, which in turn will create a community with shared interests, destiny and responsibilities. This is reminiscent of the Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere the Japanese invaders tried to market in the last war but a lot more ambitious. With this concept, China hopes to diversify exports, contribute to the development of Eurasia, increase access to food and energy, lessen dependence on the US currency and improve relations with developing countries in world affairs. To back up its commitment to the above project, China has poured some $100 billion in the Asian Infrastructure and Development Bank, which has now a membership of 57 countries including the Philippines.
The Chinese initiative described above can be viewed as an attempt to create trade and economic relations with the Asean community through trade, port and continental land bridges. In brief, China has a much bigger agenda than just playing bully in the South China Sea, thereby risking going to war with its smaller neighbors and courting a war with the United States and its allies.
Negotiations with China can cover a range of multifaceted relations we enjoy with our neighbor, with the end-view of forcing the latter to adhere to the rule of law governing the China Sea, specifically to accept a code of conduct that ensures the freedom of navigation in the disputed area.
Our relations with America in political and economic realms are ironclad while our relations with China are genetic with a quarter of our population tracing its ancestry to that mainland. If we went through a bloody Fil-American war during the annexation and put that behind us, if we have treated our Chinese brothers like second-class citizens in this country and they still maintain the friendship and confidence of our people, I am sure that we can manage the current crisis. If the new government can surmount present disagreement in the looming Asia Pacific century, which will surely be dominated by China, at least economically, this country will and can play a very important supporting role within the Asean+China partnership. This win-win scenario will be the fruit of accommodation rather than appeasement.