MANILA TIMES FORUM: CHINA’s rise to economic superstardom is inevitable, thus it is imperative for the Philippines to rekindle and even strengthen its ties with Beijing which were severed by worsening disputes in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), former Ambassador Roberto Romulo said on Wednesday.
Romulo, who is now the chairperson of AIG Philippine Insurance Inc., said Philippine leaders should accept China’s preeminence.
“Why should we care to bring our relations to normalcy? Because [China’s rise] is a reality that we have to accept. [Thus it follows that] engagement and mutual accommodation is unavoidable,” said Romulo during the Philippines-China Business Forum at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati City organized by The Manila Times.
An expert in the field of diplomacy, Romulo noted that China’s fast emergence as a global economic superpower affects the Philippines’ “economic well being.”
Although the Philippine government has the right to seek international arbitration, such as the filing of a “memorial” before the United Nations’ International Tribunal on the Laws of the Sea (Itlos) to assert its sovereignty over contested rocks and shoals in the Spratlys, by doing so the country only further dampened the soured relations between the two countries, Romulo said.
He said that while business to business and people-to-people relations have continued, he pointed out that whenever the Chinese government has control over business projects with the Philippines—such as those involving tourism and investments of state-owned enterprises—the government acts against the Philippines.
He underscored the need for cooperation, compromise and joint use of the region for the mutual benefits of each country.
“While it is correct to invoke the principles of international law, or condemn the bullying by China, let it not be forgotten that democracy is not about gaining more of victory but rather achieving an outcome that promotes national interests,” Romulo said.
Given China’s importance, he cited the urgent need to “manage tensions, rebuild ties and seek cooperation rather than conflict.”
Already, Romulo observed that since the disputes began in 2012 over ncursions in Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal, the local economy has been affected. Trade between Manila and Beijing has slowed down and huge planned investments were either lost or “forgotten” due to the sanctions China has imposed on the Philippines.
He cited the recent travel advisory by China against its citizens traveling to the Philippines due to the problem of kidnapping.
According to Romulo, there are only about 400,000 Chinese tourists who visited the country annually when Chinese tourist arrivals in neighboring countries reached two to three million a year.
China’s share in the export industry in the Philippines was only about 2 percent, he said.
These disputes somehow slowed the Philippines pace of growth, Romulo added.
“Technology transfer arrangements, virtually ceased . . . poor performance of the Philippines relative to Asean can be attributed to hesitancy in trusting our economic future, our own anemic economic growth. [China has a] huge potential for us but we are not in a position to take advantage of China’s potential,” said Romulo.
The former envoy also warned against violent confrontation or provocative actions against China such as when President Benigno Aquino 3rd sought the backing of the European Union in its position against Beijing’s nine-dash line principle in asserting sovereignty over the claimed islands.
He said China will never separate the sea row from all its other forms of relationship with the Philippines and that it will not back down on its territorial claims. Because of these, he said the arbitration process may take forever because China simply will not budge.
He further explained that China’s hard stance on the territorial issue is not just a “political stand” but a reflection of how the Chinese citizenry look at the issue. He said these viewpoints are taught to every child in China’s schools.
Romulo noted that some are experts on China’s history are convinced that the 1.2 billion Chinese are not familiar with exclusive economic zones and other sea laws, believing that they own the sea lanes and other areas in the Spratlys since the time of the Ching Dynasty.
He said China’s bullying sends a “chilling effect” to other Asian countries and which in the eyes of the Western powers is an emerging “threat that has to be contained,” but it also fires up deep territorial sentiments among the Chinese.
“How do we go about creating an environment for a compromise as possible? First step, clarify issues that are driving competing claims of sovereignty, understanding the dynamics [in China],’ Romulo said.
He said China has two major interests in the WPS— access to energy resources and strategic concerns.
Because of China’s growth, it has become “imperative for China to reach out for oil closer to home,” Romulo pointed out.
On strategic concerns, he explained that China wants unhampered access to the Pacific and Indian oceans, something which the Philippines should sympathize with instead of “stoking high emotions and patriotic fervor” in China.
“[The issue] is driven more by protecting its territorial integrity and fishing grounds, thus, stoking high emotions and patriotic fervor,” Romulo pointed out.
He said the Philippine government’s position on leaning toward the United States for help has only made matters “more complicated.”
“Because of our lack of military wherewithal, we involved the American mantle of protection. We took the US side of freedom of navigation,” said Romulo.
He said that earlier the Chinese have been proposing to shelve the issue of sovereignty and opted for joint use of the sea resources.
Romulo said claimant countries should work this way and work together in terms of maritime cooperation that will maintain peace and stability in the region.