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Territorial integrity: a nation’s permanent interest

05:04 AM September 13, 2017

That, as Lord Palmerston once stated, a nation has no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests, means that while a nation has permanent interests, it also has fleeting interests. This statement is the central/peripheral approach and the foundation of modern diplomacy. A nation’s central interests are nonnegotiable but it can cede interests that it deems peripheral. Our foreign policy was based on this doctrine until it was replaced by the Duterte administration. (“We abandoned our independent foreign policy,” Opinion, 6/26/17).

In contemporary diplomacy, territorial integrity is a permanent interest for two reasons. First, it impacts national security. You want to create sufficient space between an aggressor and your heartland. A vast territory allows defense in depth. The Soviet Union and China survived German and Japanese onslaughts, respectively, in World War II by trading space for time, until a grand alliance was formed to rescue both countries. Our soldiers resisted Japanese invaders more valiantly than the Chinese in World War II. Nonetheless, we were conquered by Japan while China survived. The difference was that we are a small country while the Chinese have a vast hinterland to which they retreated. The artificial islands that China has built should be our defense outposts; instead, these now represent advance bases for Chinese aggression against us. Sadly, the administration approves of this setup.

Second, abandonment of our right to the West Philippine Sea means we forego the resources of the area which could erase our import bill for oil and gas. More important, we now have an indefensible national territory. Heretofore, the nearest Chinese military base was on Hainan Island 900 kilometers away, outside the range of military aircraft. The artificial islands built by China cut this distance to 300 km. Safeguarding our security will require massive defense outlays. Fifth-generation F-35 jet fighters cost $135 million each. We cannot afford such expensive weapons.


The Duterte administration has been touting the $23 billion investment package offered by China as an exchange for the abandonment of our claim on the West Philippine Sea. This is a bad tradeoff and a misrepresentation. The stated amount is not official development assistance (ODA) and, therefore, must be repaid. Since the time of the Marcos regime, each of our leaders brought back from a state visit investment proposals worth billions. But only a miniscule amount of such proposals are realized because: 1) The terms are onerous and better alternatives are available elsewhere; 2) the technology is obsolete or far advanced for our economy; 3) the proposed investment will cause pollution or 4) it is tinged with corruption; and 5) the host government deliberately padded the proposals for PR purposes.

Some of those points are self-evident. Item 4 is exemplified by the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, in which Ferdinand Marcos’ cronies were involved. Item 5 is a common practice of the defunct Soviet Union: Visiting heads of state sign agreements with state-owned enterprises, none of which get implemented. These trade proposals are labelled “ceremonial agreements” and are concluded merely for PR purposes to make a state visit appear successful. They should properly be labelled as diplomatic scams.

It is highly probable that the Chinese investment package contains such dubious proposals. Meaning, we have traded national territory for nothing, in the biggest such scam since the Dutch bought Manhattan from the American Indians for beads worth $24. However, the descendants of the Indians claim it is their ancestors who tricked the Dutch; the land their ancestors “sold” the Dutch actually belonged to another tribe. Unfortunately, the President and his foreign secretary cannot offer a similar alibi. The territory they are trading to the Chinese for scam investments belongs to us under the ruling of the arbitral tribunal in The Hague.

Hermenegildo C. Cruz was Philippine ambassador to the United Nations in 1984-1986.

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TAGS: hermenegildo c. cruz, Inquirer Commentary, Maritime Dispute, South China Sea, territorial integrity, West Philippine Sea
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