OF course, President Aquino should stand up against any power that threatens Philippine interests. Of course, the President should spare no effort in protecting every inch of our territory. But comparing China to Nazi Germany is not only wrong, it is also counterproductive in finding a peaceful settlement to the territorial dispute.
The Palace’s attempt at damage control as stated by Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte was equally wrong. She said over the weekend the President was merely standing up for the rights of Filipinos. President Aquino could have done that without being insensitive and cruel, particularly to those who remember history.
Naturally, China is fuming. Worse, the latest inflammatory remarks by President Aquino was delivered in Japan. Allied with Nazi Germany in World War II, Japan invaded the Philippines and China and committed atrocities for which Japanese leaders have yet to apologize. China’s ambassador to Manila, Zhao Jianhua, said recently that the Chinese have never invaded the Philippines, tortured Filipinos, or kept “comfort women.”
Apparently, the Chinese were not the only ones upset over the comparison.
On the Forbes magazine website, Jean-Pierre Lehmann writes: “When last year Philippine President Benigno Aquino compared China’s stance in the South China Sea to that of Nazi Germany’s annexation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia before the outbreak of World War II, it was inappropriate, irresponsible and inflammatory. To have done so again, in a speech in Tokyo on Wednesday 3rd June, borders on the incredulous. Aquino should certainly refrain from such comparisons in the future.”
The contributor, who notes that his mother was born in the Philippines and that he has many Filipino friends, went on to say, “To compare the South China Sea to the Sudetenland displays amazing ignorance, worrying on the part of the head of State of one of the countries concerned.”
Less bravado, more statesmanship
We concede that there are some who would applaud President Aquino’s brash behavior. In a comment posted on our website, one reader asked whether The Manila Times wanted the President to step aside and allow China to do what it wants in the West Philippine Sea. Of course not. They are missing the point.
The bottom line: President Aquino’s objective should be to protect our national interests. If talking tough to the Chinese will protect our interests, then President Aquino should do so. But if that does not work, then the President should consider other alternatives, including diplomacy. President Aquino’s provocations have triggered a hastening of China’s encroachment into areas claimed by the Philippines, along with Vietnam and Malaysia. His statements have raised tensions in the region and revived the possibility of a new cold war. Instability in the region benefits no one, not even the Philippines. It is time to explore other options in pursuit of our interests.
Also, talking tough to China does not mean making “asinine remarks” – to borrow from Lehmann’s piece. Talking a stand against China does not mean abandoning statesmanship and civility. Fighting for what is ours does not mean spreading false parallels that hurt the feelings of our strategic partners, one of which is China. As we have said before, we should not allow the disputed territories issue to define our relations with China.
Standing up to China should mean engaging them. We do not agree with the Palace’s decision to reject the offer by Ambassador Zhao to resume bilateral talks without any preconditions. In returning to the negotiating table, China is not asking for the Philippines to retreat from international arbitration, the ambassador said. We believe that the Philippines should sit down with China, and if necessary, agree to disagree. And if negotiations take a long time, then so be it. It would be a miscalculation to think that China is making this conciliatory offer only because of international pressure.
Last, President Aquino should grow with experience. He should note that not even the United States, which has been extremely critical of China’s human rights record, has likened China to the Nazis. President Aquino should learn the difference between tough and irresponsible. It would be better if he apologized, but given his personal history, China should not hold its breath.