Expert urges Manila to step aside as US-China row heats up
Better get out of the way when titans clash.
A national security expert gave this sound advice to the Philippines on Tuesday as a word war between China and the United States over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) got more intense.
Clarita Carlos, former president of the National Defense College of the Philippines who is now with the University of the Philippines’ political science department, said while she does notsee the war of words between the superpowers escalating into a shooting war, it would be better for smaller countries like the Philippines to step aside.
“I don’t see them ending up in a full-blown clash. The US doesn’t want China to seek hegemony in the region while China wants to deny the region to the Americans. That’s their rivalry and we’re just ants. We might get trampled, so let’s get out of the way,” she said in Filipino in an interview with GMA News TV.
Carlos made the comments as China said it will project its military power further beyond its borders at sea and more assertively in the air, defending the construction of artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea that sparked concerns in Washington.
She said Washington’s move to send an aircraft carrier battle group to Japan—which is also locked in a territorial dispute with China in the East China Sea—as well as a much publicized surveillance flight over areas where artificial islands were being created was meant to challenge Beijing’s 9-dash line territorial claims.
“All of these are provocations,” according to Carlos.
The Philippines and later Vietnam had challenged China’s territorial claims before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (Itlos) in The Hague, whose jurisdiction on the issue is not recognized by Beijing. The tribunal is expected to make a ruling next year.
Carlos,however, expressed concern over the publication of an editorial in a Chinese-controlled newspaper which said that “war is inevitable” unless the US drops its objections over Beijing’s activities in the West Philippine Sea.
“There are ongoing talks on different levels and I wish there won’t be any accident, recklessness or carelessness. That’s where world wars start,” she said.
Malacañang also on Tuesday reiterated its statement that Manila would not resort to harsh actions in responding to China’s provocations.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. maintained that diplomatic means remain to be the country’s best approach in dealing with maritime disputes.
“Our principle is based on the national interest of the Philippines. We don’t get easily rattled by statements coming from other countries,” he said in Filipino.
“What we want is to prevent the escalation of conflict instead we want the tension to simmer down. That is why our focus is to deal with the issue peacefully and diplomatically.”
Coloma said the country is pursuing a two-track approach to disputes in the West Philippine Sea.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s “declaration on the issue is clear, that our position is dual track, one is arbitration, the other is Asean-centered,” he added.
The spokesman for the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Manila is prepared for whatever “post-arbitration scenarios” it would face once the Itlos hands down its verdict.
“Of course, we already have a post-arbitration scenario but this time, we can’t really discuss this [in public],” Charles Jose told reporters
Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who published and headed a presentation of ancient Philippine maps showing the country’s sovereignty over the contested waters, warned that Manila should be ready to file a second case if the arbitral tribunal in The Hague decides in favor of China’s nine-dash line claim.
“We recognize the reclamations being made by China… [they are]already changing the situation on the ground. But the arbitration decision will serve another purpose, this will clarify maritime entitlements,” Jose said.
“This should be a strong basis or foundation to establish the rule of law when it comes to claim on maritime entitlements. We are hoping to be able to use this decision of the tribunal in trying to convince China with the help of the international community that it would be to its best interest to respect and follow the decision of the tribunal,” he added.
‘Open seas protection’
China also on Tuesday said its navy will put a greater emphasis on “open seas protection,” rather than “offshore waters defense” alone, the State Council, China’s Cabinet, said in a white paper.
At the same time, its air force will shift focus “from territorial air defense to both defense and offense,” it added.
The People’s Liberation Army will increase its global mobility and artillery forces will strengthen capabilities for “medium and long-range precision strikes,” the State Council said.
Official Chinese media also on Tuesday said China will build two 50-meter-high lighthouses on reefs on the Kalayaan (Spratly) islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines.
The facilities will be built on the Calderon (Cuarteron) and the Mabini (Johnson South) reefs, the Xinhua news agency quoted officials as saying.
Mabini saw a battle between the Chinese and Vietnamese navies in 1988.
Beijing has increased annual spending on its military—the largest by personnel in the world—by double-digit annual percentages for several decades as it seeks to modernize its forces.
It has focused on increasing its naval power, commissioning its first aircraft carrier in 2012 and rapidly adding to its submarine and surface fleets.
Several of its Asian neighbors have been alarmed by the military build-up, although Beijing insists that its investment is purely defensive.
Military spokesman Yang Yujun also on Tuesday said the island building was “beneficial to the whole of international society” because it aided China’s search and rescue, and environmental protection work.
The white paper singled out the US’ announced “rebalancing” toward Asia, and Japan’s revision of some of its defense policies as objects of “concern.”
“Some external countries are also busy meddling in South China Sea affairs,” it said.
“A tiny few maintain constant close-in air and sea surveillance and reconnaissance against China.”
The white paper said China’s army would boost its online capabilities, after the US accused Chinese soldiers of cyber-hacking.
“China will expedite the development of a cyber-force,” the paper added, without providing details.
China remains far behind the United States in military capacity and reach despite recent increases in defense spending.
CATHERINE S. VALENTE, BERNICE CAMILLE V. BAUZON, FERNAN MARASIGAN AND AFP