President Benigno Aquino 3rd has compared China’s efforts to claim disputed territories with those of Nazi Germany’s, while urging world leaders not to make the same mistake of appeasement, according to the New York Times.
The Philippines has accused China of becoming increasingly aggressive in recent years in staking its claims to nearly all of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), and Aquino reportedly said his nation could not stand up to its mightier neighbor alone.
“At what point do you say: ‘Enough is enough’? Well, the world has to say it—remember that the Sudetenland was given in an attempt to appease Hitler to prevent World War II,” the New York Times quoted Aquino as saying in a lengthy interview in Manila on Tuesday.
Aquino was reportedly referring to the failure by Western nations to back Czechoslovakia when Adolf Hitler-led Nazi Germany occupied western parts of the European nation in 1938 ahead of World War II.
The President’s spokesmen were not immediately available to comment on his interview with the New York Times.
Aquino’s reported comments come less than two weeks after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe raised the temperature in a parallel territorial dispute with China by appearing to compare Sino-Japanese relations with the run-up to World War I.
Japan and China are at loggerheads over the sovereignty of disputed islands in the East China Sea, with paramilitary confrontations common as naval vessels and planes lurk in the background.
China also claims nearly all of the South China Sea, one of the world’s most strategically important waterways as it is home to vital shipping lanes and believed to sit atop lucrative deposits of natural gas and oil.
But the Philippines, as well as Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Taiwan, also have competing claims to some of the waters.
China has been steadily increasing its military and coast guard presence in the sea in recent years to assert its claim, causing diplomatic tensions to rise and stoking concerns in the Philippines about perceived Chinese bullying.
The Philippines launched legal action with a United Nations tribunal last year in an effort to force it to rule the Chinese South China Sea claim is invalid. China has refused to participate in the UN process.
Aquino insisted that the Philippines, which has one of the weakest military forces in the region, would not concede any territory to China, but said his country needed foreign help, according to the New York Times.
“If we say yes to something we believe is wrong now, what guarantee is there that the wrong will not be further exacerbated down the line?” he said, according to the paper.
Later in the interview, he reportedly said: “You may have the might, but that does not necessarily make you right.”
The President also said he looks forward to an agreement between the Philippines and the United States that would enhance the country’s defense capability.
“We are very optimistic that will happen,” Aquino said, referring to a framework agreement that will enable an increased rotational presence of American troops in the country.
He, however, noted that he is not keen on increasing military spending, if that means sacrificing social concerns.
“I’m not sure if I would be willing to sacrifice social concerns to try to improve the military capabilities,” the President said.
China’s foreign ministry did not immediately react to Aquino’s comments on Nazi Germany but an angry commentary was released on the state-run Xinhua news agency.
“Philippine President Benigno Aquino 3rd, who has taken an inflammatory approach while dealing with maritime disputes with China, has never been a great candidate for a wise statesman in the region,” the commentary said.
“But his latest reported attack against China, in which he senselessly compared his northern neighbor to the Nazi Germany, exposed his true colors as an amateurish politician who was ignorant both of history and reality.”
The commentary also insisted China’s claims to the South China Sea were legitimate, and that war references by Aquino and Abe were not warranted.
“Despite lame comparisons by Philippine and Japanese leaders, the international community cannot ignore the fact that China has long chosen a path of peaceful development,” it said.
As the territorial dispute continues to heighten tensions, the United States warned to China not to create an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea.
“We have made clear that we urge China not to attempt to implement the ADIZ and certainly not to replicate it in other sensitive areas, including and particularly in the South China Sea,” Danny Russel, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said.
Tensions soared in the region in November when China declared an ADIZ over a vast part of the East China Sea, requiring pilots to report to Beijing when flying over islands administered by Japan.
After China’s move, the United States, Japan and South Korea all defied Beijing by flying military planes through its declared zone.
Russel also called on Japan, South Korea and China to find ways to work together, saying it was in the interest of all three to overcome historical animosity.
He said he held “candid” talks on growing tensions during recent stops in Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo.
“There are multiple perspectives, but one thing is certain—none of the problems, none of these tensions, can be solved by any one party alone,” Russel told reporters.
“Frankly, we look to each of our friends and partners in the Asia-Pacific region to make a contribution to good relations and to good neighborliness,” he said.
Russel said that Japan and South Korea, both US allies and democracies, had shared values that should “serve as the foundation for long-term trust.” He said that China and Japan, as Asia’s two largest economies, “can and must work together” in the interests of their citizens.
AFP with Catherine Valente