What do we do now?
What happens now? China will only talk if the PCA decision is not brought up. The Philippines withdrew from the negotiation. The Philippines won the legal battle; but it can’t fish, or explore, or drill for oil or gas in the disputed area. The US said that China should follow the rule of law; follow the legal decision of the PCA, and it has brought to the SCS two aircraft carrier strike groups and nuclear submarines. China says that those are mere pieces of tissue paper; null and void. China also intimated that it is ready to go to war with anyone who tries to enforce the PCA decision using military force.
Here are two superpowers, with nuclear forces ready, finding themselves face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball. The fate of the entire planet now depends on who will push the nuclear button first. What can we, ordinary mortals, do to diffuse the situation? Suggestion, anyone?
To start off, here are a couple of suggestions:
1. Diffuse the situation through the “backdoor.” Uncle Digong can send FVR and Chito Sta. Romana to conduct “backdoor” talks with the Chinese ambassador. The agenda is to convince the other side that we set aside the issue of sovereignty for the rest of the century. This is the only way we can proceed on a WIN-WIN strategy. This is because the sovereignty issue cannot be resolved in a thousand years. The Philippines stresses the legal aspect; China stresses the historical aspect. Both have a point; but “never the twain shall meet.” So, better that both of us set the sovereignty issue aside for the next 100 years so we can move forward; with both side agreeing that neither side is surrendering its territorial claim so that no one loses face before their respective constituencies, and the RP side will not be bothered with claims of unconstitutionality by local critiques who want to torpedo the negotiations. When both sides agree to shelve the sovereignty issue, then the real win-win negotiations can begin.
2. A win for RP
a. Joint exploration, exploitation, and development of oil, gas, and other mineral resources in the disputed area;
b. Joint exploitation, development and environmental protection of fishery and other marine resources in said area;
c. That China include Manila as the easternmost terminal hub of the Maritime Silk Road of the 21st Century that will start from Manila all the way to Madrid;
d. That China assist in the establishment of the Manila Silk Road hub that will include the modernization of existing ports, airport, railway networks north to south of both Luzon and Mindanao, alternative energy facilities (wind, solar, etc.), and industrial/manufacturing economic zones in select cities along the rail network.
3. A win for China
The core interest of China in the Spratly Islands is not oil, or gas, or fish. To them, the area spells their survival as a nation and civilization – or their extinction.
Some renowned geopolitical scientists (like Kaplan) view the South China Sea as consisting of a couple of “barren rocks,” sparsely populated, with not much geo-strategic value.
China’s view is just the exact opposite: to them, that is the only ideal area that has enough depth (Philippine trench) where US submarines can maneuver and launch a surprise first strike with their Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads on China’s east coast, where its industrial/manufacturing base and most of its more than 1.3 billion population are concentrated.
Such first strike can be finished in a couple of hours. And the Chinese nation and civilization, as we know it, will be extinct. Hence, China is willing to risk war with the US or any of its allies on this issue. That is the reason why China set up those artificial islands/ bases – to monitor and counter or prevent a surprise attack by US submarines coming from the deep of the South China Sea.
So a win for China is for the Philippines to agree on the current status quo: that both China and the Philippines continue occupying and developing the islands each country is occupying at the moment. This will put China’s mind at rest. If this win-win solution is adopted by both parties, there will no longer be a reason for continuing with EDCA. There is no more reason for China to put Philippine bases in the crosshairs of their missiles. There is no more reason for the Philippines to be the epicenter of a battle between two superpowers.
About the Author: A graduate of Philippine Military Academy Cl’67; MPA ’90 from Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; spent five years with the New People’s Army (1971-76); detained for 10 years under Martial Law; and became Chief, Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. May be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org