Unless the Chinese do something incredibly offensive such as opening fire on Filipino fishermen or Philippine Navy or Coast Guard ships in the disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea, there is no reason to believe that the two sides cannot hammer out some kind of agreement to end their differences.
Diplomacy remains the most viable means of correcting what both sides know to be a mistake.
In the meantime, the Philippines can afford to ignore the mad statement of one Chinese general who referred to the country as a “troublemaker” in the region. We Filipinos have a term for the general—kulang sa pansin, or desperate for attention.
The latest word from China is that they are now willing to discuss the maritime disputes they have with the Association of Southeast Asian (Asean) member-states.
This willingness to dialogue says that the maritime disputes may yet be solved, although it will not be easy. China still considers the disputed waters as their seas, which is also what the Philippines says. That the waters are closer to Philippine territory than to China is one huge factor in our favor.
Still, we must acknowledge their historical claims over the waters, which they have been calling the South China Sea even before the Republic of the Philippines was born. What the Philippines does have to buttress its claim are the global realities, as reflected by the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas, or Unclos.
If the maritime disputes had not erupted as they did last year, the Philippines and China can look back at a long and friendly relationship.
While diplomatic relations are but a few decades old, the cultural and economic ties between the two nations have existed since the Spanish era.
We need not be reminded that President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s mother, the late President Corazon Aquino, had once gone to China to trace her family’s roots. Indeed, this second President Aquino tells us that the typical Filipino probably has some Chinese blood running in his or her veins. Thus, the unbreakable economic and cultural ties between the two nations.
Those economic ties take on greater importance these days when one considers that China is one of the Philippines’ top trading partners, and that the economies of both countries are doing better than most other countries, not only in this part of the world, but everywhere else.
There is no denying that China has the bigger and more potent economy. But because the Philippines is doing so well these days, it remains a wonder why there aren’t greater investments from China entering the Philippines.
Where are their investments?
In fact, it is quite surprising to learn that Filipino investors are pouring more money into China than their Chinese counterparts are doing to our homeland. China may be a great investment destination, but the Philippines also has a lot going for it.
As for the cultural influence that China has on the Philippines, there is no question that Filipinos are enamored with all things Chinese, be it food, fashion, gadgets, and industrial or consumer goods.
That Filipinos now celebrate Chinese New Year and even resort to feng shui in planning the layout of their homes and offices tells us that the Chinese influence on our daily lives is indeed all pervasive.
Playing the blame game on the maritime disputes should be avoided at all cost. What’s important is to work out a compromise that will be acceptable to both countries, with no one having to lose face.
If such an agreement were to be worked out, the Philippines and China would end up in a win-win situation.
Two years from now, the Asean will be an integrated market. China knows full well that
the Philippines is a founding member of the Asean, and wields substantial clout with all its member-states.
With its population about to breach the 100 million mark, and the country steadily moving out of Third World status, it behooves both the Philippines and China to repair their strained friendship.
Both sides should focus on their common ground—eternal cultural and economic ties that cannot and should not be broken, for whatever reason.
Maybe China can start by telling one loudmouthed braggart of a general to keep his mouth shut?