Second of three parts
TOWARD the end of my speech, members of my delegation distributed sets of documents to other HODs. Each set consisted of a chart on the location of the Mischief Reef, photos of the Chinese structures on the reef in various stages and an article from a US defense magazine on Chinese actions in the SC(WP)S. I ended my statement by quoting the Chinese saying that pictures are worth thousands of words.
“We should not fall into a deep slumber like Rip Van Winkle and wake up one day staring at a fait accompli,” I concluded.
To the surprise of everybody, the Head of the US delegation, Pamela Slutz, expressed agreement with the statements made by the Philippines and Indonesia. She also expressed concern over the recent Chinese activities in Mischief Reef, stating that “these actions raised anxiety in the region.” She mentioned that some of the other claimants have also undertaken construction work on structures in the SCS, and that these unresolved disputes make the area a flash point.
The Chinese HOD responded by stating that the ARF is not the place for discussing the SCS since this would be tackled by the Philippines-China CBM Meeting in Manila scheduled in late March 1999 and by the Asean-China Senior Officials Meeting in Kunming in April 1999. Then she pulled out from her portfolio and read a prepared statement regarding “recent incidents” in the SCS, including the Chinese justification for the construction of structures in the Mischief Reef. I made a rejoinder which the Chinese HOD did not counter.
The exchanges were recalled to the Philippine Ambassador to Washington, DC by Ms. Slutz, who was the Director for Regional Security and Policy of the US State Department, when the former called on her after the Bangkok meeting.
The Philippine Embassy’s report said in part:
The DepState, the Australian Embassy and embassies of some other ARF member countries mentioned in various exchanges with this Post the actual discussions that took place in Bangkok. Evidently, they had all received appropriate guidance on the results of the ARF ISG/CBM meeting. In particular, they noted the exchanges between the Chinese and PHIL delegations, which apparently many delegations reported on back to their respective capitals and to their posts here in Washington DC. It was recalled with some amusement but also with respect to Filipino HOD that when the Chinese raised the issue of Chinese indisputable sovereignty over the SCS, he countered it with the “incontrovertible truths” about the claim.
Before the start of the RP-China Expert Groups Meeting on Confidence-Building Measures in Manila on 22 March 1999, Mr. Wang Yi, the Chinese Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, pulled me aside to tell me that he was informed of what I had said in Bangkok. He said I should have not done that. At the meeting, Mr. Wang Yi vigorously defended his country’s position on the South China Sea vis-à-vis his Filipino counterpart Undersecretary for Policy Lauro Baja, Jr. (Mr. Wang Yi is now China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.)
Prior to my departure for Seoul in May 1999 to assume my post as ambassador, the Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines, Mme. Fu Ying, invited me and my wife Angie to her official residence in Dasmariñas Village. Her secretary said it was a farewell dinner for us and that they had also invited the Director of the China Division of my ASPAC office and his wife and other diplomats. Much to our surprise, it was only me and my wife Angie at the round dining table surrounded by Amb. Fu Ying and her two Embassy officers and their respective spouses.
The Chinese food served was a gustatory delight but the thrust of the dinner conversation left a bad taste in the mouth. By design, the Chinese hostess and her colleagues focused the conversation on the South China Sea (SCS). She expounded on the Chinese position with respect to the SCS territorial issue. I steadfastly held on to our country’s position. There was a stalemate and I was happy not to have suffered from indigestion.
At one point, the Ambassador flattered me by saying I was a “tough negotiator.”
Amb. Fu Ying was referring to the discussion that went fair into the night on March 22, 1999. The Ambassador and I headed our respective panels to consider the Summary Report of the RP-China Expert Groups Meeting on CBMs in Manila mentioned earlier. Fu Ying is now the Vice Foreign Minister of China. At the height of the Scarborough Shoal stalemate in April 2012, she twice summoned the Philippine Charge d’ Affaires ad interim to her office to put across China’s stand on the issue.
Part three, the last of this three-part series, will appear tomorrow.