Sunday, May 13, 2012

Stoking fears of China

A blogger and columnist for a Philippine newspaper wrote recently that the closure of the U.S. military bases in 1992 left the Philippines “defenceless against our enemies.” He was referring to the apparent helplessness of Filipinos to stand up alone to the Chinese threat, or to say it less mildly, to China’s arrogance and bullying tactics with regard to their territorial claim to the Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
About 300 Filipino demonstrators rally at the Chinese Consulate in Makati against China's
 aggressive tactics in the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Photo by AFP/Ted
Aljibe. Click link to view "Filipinos Protest China-Philippines  Naval Stand-off," 
In his column “My China Phobia,” he wrote, “If we still had the U.S. military bases in our territory, would Chinese trawlers and other fishing vessels dare enter Philippine seas? Without the U.S. military bases in our country, the Chinese and just about everyone else can enter our territory with impunity and forage in what should be our exclusive 200-mile ocean.”

Exactly what the aforementioned Filipino blogger/columnist and a few expat Pinoy protesters from the U.S. and Canada have in mind in internationalizing the dispute in the Scarborough Shoal and Spratly Islands, by giving the United States the necessary reason to re-establish its previous control of the sea lanes in the South China Sea and the whole of the Pacific.

It was in 1992 when the U.S. navy left Subic Bay that China started to expand its territorial claim to almost the entire South China Sea. By that time, China has redrawn the extent of its territorial breadth, covering virtually all the islands, atolls, reefs, and rocks and their surrounding waters and encroaching on parts of the sea that other countries in the region also straddle. To date, six countries have made competing territorial claims to the islands and other land formations in the South China Sea and the dispute is being escalated by military threats and war of words.

There are at least four observations we can make from the South China Sea dispute and from the spectacle of loyalty to the motherland by the handful of Filipino expatriates before the Chinese consulates wherever they are found in the world.

First, with respect to the competing territorial claims of China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, nothing has been settled and each country’s claim is what it is: an outstanding claim that is not validated, determined by an international body, or acquiesced to by the other countries. Therefore, no country has a better right than the other. Everyone is on equal footing, although not necessarily if one considers China’s military and economic wherewithal.

No matter how vociferous Filipinos are in asserting their sovereignty over the islands and rocks in the South China Sea and in expressing their boundless patriotism, this is not going to help establish their claim. We cannot truly state that China, for example, has violated our territorial sovereignty in the Scarborough Shoal because those rocks submerged in the sea are not yet ours. The same goes for China and the rest of the other countries.

The impasse cannot be resolved by the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) since this is a not a law of the sea issue. At the core of the dispute is who has sovereignty to these islands; therefore, it is a political conundrum. Until the sovereignty issue is determined, the provisions of UNCLOS on delineating boundaries such as the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the continental shelf are held in abeyance. All this talk about the 200-mile EEZ of the Philippines is nonsense as we have not established our legal right or title to own those islands and rocks in the disputed sea. The criticism of China’s territorial claim that likens it to Italy owning the whole of Europe or Africa because it was part of the Roman empire of yore is gibberish. We are talking of lands in the sea which are yet to be occupied or settled and governed with continuous authority, not of lands which are already subject to sovereign rule. Besides, the UNCLOS is only concerned with maritime waters, not with land formations which can be subject to territorial sovereignty claims.

Second, the sudden interest of expatriate Filipinos in the United States and Canada in the South China Sea is rather suspicious, if not apparently being orchestrated by the U.S. government itself together with their lackeys like Fil-Am lawyers Imelda Nicolas, Rodel Rodis and Ted Laguatan, organizers and leaders of the U.S. Pinoys for Good Governance (US4GG). While the true Filipino nationalists and patriots are demonstrating in the streets at home and before the American Embassy in Manila demanding the removal of U.S. special forces stationed on Philippine soil under the Visiting Forces Agreement, the USP4GG partisans are silent about American military intervention in the government’s campaign against local insurgents and Moslem secessionists in Mindanao. The USP4GG condemns China’s invasion of Philippine territories in the South China Sea, which is untrue, yet welcomes the presence of the U.S. military on Philippine soil.

Where is their true love of the motherland when they denounce China’s make-believe intrusion in Philippine territory but embrace America’s direct and actual intervention in the country’s affairs? While Filipinos in the Philippines are demanding the scrapping of the Mutual Defence Pact and the Visiting Forces Agreement with the U.S., USP4GG diehards, on the other hand, call for reinforcing these agreements by encouraging a greater build-up of American military muscle in the South China Sea.
Filipinos protest against U.S. troops under the Visiting Forces Agreement between the
Philippines and the United States. Photo by nicabil. Click link to view "Militants slam
 plan for more troops in the Philippines,"
Third, in shifting its foreign policy interest to Asia and the Pacific, the United States needs to restructure its military strength, especially its navy, from Australia to the Philippines in order to rein in the expanding influence of the Chinese military in the region. The U.S. military is now establishing a submarine base in Port Darwin in Australia and is also engaged along with the Philippine armed forces in actual hostilities against local insurgents and Moro separatists, even in regular military exercises in the South China Sea with its allies from the region. The South China Sea is therefore crucial to U.S. navigation and it cannot afford to simply let China control the sea lanes that are necessary for the U.S. navy to respond quickly to threats to South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, the countries of vital interest to the United States.

This is also why the Obama administration has pushed the U.S. Senate to approve the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea treaty. The U.S., which has withheld ratifying the treaty since its adoption 30 years ago and the only permanent member of the U.N. Security Council not a party to it, now believes the pact is necessary to protect the U.S. Navy’s right to carry out exercises off the coast of China. Ratification of the convention has been held over concerns among some congressional leaders that the treaty threatens U.S. sovereignty and gives the United Nations too much control over oil and other mineral rights. U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta told U.S. lawmakers that ratifying the UNCLOS will ensure that U.S. warships, commercial vessels and aircraft have access to where needed.

And fourth, there appears an apparent wave of Sino-phobia that is being stoked by the U.S. and its allies in Asia and the Pacific. China has become an infinite source of fear and loathing characteristic of the Cold War between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union.

Among Asian countries, China-bashing is nothing new. There is long history of resentment against the Chinese by other Asians because of their economic success as immigrants, particularly in Southeast Asia. Ethnic Chinese, for example, constitute more than 1.3 per cent of the total population of the Philippines but they control 60 to 70 per cent of the Philippine economy. This figure however does not include Chinese mestizos who have been part of the Filipino middle class since the Spanish colonial period and immigrants from the People’s Republic of China after 1949. Add them and Chinese Filipinos are one of the largest ethnic groups in the country, comprising about 22 per cent of the total population. President Noynoy Aquino’s mother, Cory Cojuangco-Aquino, also a former president, was a Chinese mestiza. In addition, all the wealthiest billionaires in the Philippines are Filipino Chinese or of partial Chinese descent.

It seems easier therefore for Filipinos to whip up fears of China’s threat of expansion or invasion rather than incite anti-Americanism despite the reality that U.S. forces are already operating on Philippine soil. After the Japanese, the Chinese have never warmed up to the hearts of Filipinos, although hardly can one detect the difference between the ethnic Filipino and the Filipino Chinese. The Americans are acclaimed as heroes by most Filipinos and they are looked upon as protectors even though that is now far from happening.

The USP4GG protests against Chinese aggression in the Philippines are obviously a smokescreen for bringing back the mighty American military in the South China Sea. Their protests are a disguised form of patriotism, a charade of love country, when in fact they are actually selling the Philippines short, just as the Philippines has agreed before to sign on with unfair and one-sided treaties with the United States.

Unfortunately, our historic animosity to the Chinese is fueling the drive to bash China when the latter’s post-Mao government does not seem to have any interest in grabbing territory from its neighbours, or in promoting revolution or spreading a dangerous ideology. Rather, China seems more focused on its internal development, especially its experimentation with the capitalist system albeit centralized state control.

On the other hand, the United States, which has a history of military expansionism, seems bent on re-taking control of the South China Sea, to add to the 9,000 miles of coastline on the Pacific Ocean, which is effectively owned and operated by the U.S. Navy. Led by the USP4GG, misguided Filipinos abroad are helping and abetting the United States achieve its objective, and they call this an act of patriotism.

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