A joint exploration and development of contested resource-rich areas in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) is possible but China is unlikely to make a deal with President Benigno Aquino 3rd because of his flip-flopping tendencies, according to a leading political analyst and geopolitics expert.
Professor Richard Javad Heydarian of the De La Salle University in Manila expressed belief that the joint exploration of reefs and islands being claimed by the Philippines and China is “quite unlikely” under current conditions.
“I don’t think China is open to make any deal with [President] Aquino for a number of reasons. One is that he’ll be a lame duck soon. Second, their view of Aquino is that he doesn’t have enough political capital and he doesn’t have a consistent strategy. He flip-flops,” he said.
Heydarian, also a consultant with the House of Representatives and a columnist for Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, noted that in 2012, the President allowed Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th to be a backdoor negotiator in talks with China. Later on, Aquino referred to the Chinese as “Nazi Germans.”
“For them, Aquino is not a statesman that they can make a deal [with]. That’s why they would rather wait [for the next President of the Philippines]. Also, they see [Foreign Affairs] Secretary [Albert] del Rosario as a little bit too pro-American,” he added.
Del Rosario was raised and educated in the United States, and was a former Philippine ambassador to Washington.
While Manila awaits the decision of the arbitral tribunal on a case it filed against China, Heydarian said the Philippines should not escalate tensions and instead highlight the importance of its relations with Beijing and modernize the Philippine Coast Guard.
He added that it is “quite fanciful” to wish that there would be a compromise between the two countries in the next two years because the Chinese “have taken the hardline position” as “popular nationalism” there becomes a political agenda.
“What can we do in the meantime? The minimum that we can do is to avoid an escalation [of the tensions],” Heydarian said.
China, he added, has not sanctioned the Philippines in its full capacity. The professor attributed this to the fact that the Asian powerhouse does not want to burn bridges.
“They [want to] leave enough goodwill to make a deal with the next administration. They’re leaving the door open. They will not burn their bridges. I hope Aquino will not rock the boat any more than he has done,” Heydarian said.
Under the current circumstances, where the two countries are almost in a state of “de facto war” or dangerous maritime standoff, he suggested the establishment of a hotline between Presidents Aquino and Xi Jinping.
“That’s dangerous [having no hotline] because a small incident could be sensationalized by biased media on both sides [that] could eventually put pressure on the governments in escalating the tensions,” Heydarian said.
“The best thing that Mr. Aquino should do, and I think he has been doing this, is to emphasize that our territorial dispute with China is not the totality of our relationship,” he added.
Heydarian noted that China can help the Philippines in infrastructure development.
From 2001 to 2011, China has pledged $600 billion in foreign aid.
In 2010, Beijing also overtook the World Bank as a lender.
“The Chinese have a lot of money and they cannot allow it to stagnate there. Most of them are in dollars. So, if the US economy goes down, it becomes worthless, so they have to put it somewhere,” the professor explained.
He said China can also join projects under the government’s public-private-partnerships (PPP) program or invest in the energy sector.
Heydarian said in the United Kingdom, a Chinese company is in charge of building a new airport in Manchester. China also has deals with Australia, England, France, Italy, Greece and Belgium.
“These are not China’s friends. The point is that there’s so much that we can gain. Scarborough is important, but don’t you think it’s also important that there’s less traffic, that the people in the rural areas have basic infrastructure, isn’t that also in our national interest?” he asked.
“I think our national interest should be beyond the purely territorial dispute, it should also encompass welfare development. If the Chinese can provide that under our rules, then why not? Some of their companies are already global, world-class companies,” the professor said.
According to him, the approach to the sea dispute should be “multi-pronged.”
He said the government should continue with its planned modernization of the Philippine Army.
“The future is the Coast Guard, develop it because that’s the frontline in the standoff. We need more rapid response boats,” Heydarian said.