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Commentary

For a few pieces of silver

/ 05:14 AM February 12, 2018

It’s now a tragic fact: Due to President Duterte’s appeasement policy toward China, we have lost a large chunk of our maritime domain, the equivalent size of our total landmass of 300,000 square kilometers. And perhaps trillions of dollars worth of potential energy, metals, and food resources that lie beneath those waters. By abandoning the hard-fought legal gains granted to us by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016, we stand to lose even more if the sellout continues, according to Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.

Is the Faustian deal that the national leadership struck with Beijing worth the bargain? The economic package we are supposed to get from China is around $24 billion, a paltry sum compared to the goodies earmarked for another one of its allies, Pakistan ($52 billion). Thus, for a few pieces of silver, we have traded our priceless patrimony — indeed, our very soul.

Carpio is absolutely right. What we have surrendered to China is lost forever. To expect China to give them back in the future out of  neighborly goodwill is not foreign policy but pure fantasy and naïveté. And the so-called assistance comes with a very heavy price, such as loans tied to the purchase of Chinese goods and technology. Already, the onerous terms of those loan packages have compelled Pakistan and Nepal to cancel multibillion-dollar hydroelectric projects that lie along the path of economic corridors crucial to Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” (Obor), which is designed to perk up China’s stalled economy by boosting demand and opening up its depressed, perennially restive interior regions (such as Xinjiang and Tibet).

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The recent cancellation of those huge projects has thrown a monkey wrench into the flagship project of Obor:  the 1,000-mile-long supercorridor from southern Xinjiang to Pakistan’s port of Gwadar in the Indian Ocean  that would cut travel time to the Middle East and Europe by 12,000 kilometers. The immense strategic value of that prospective economic lifeline is obvious. In the event of conflict, when a hostile power (read: America) closes the Malacca Straits’ choke point — which handles some $5 trillion in annual trade — China would not be brought to its knees. The alternative land and maritime route to the world via Pakistan would assure China’s survival.

Despite the greater strategic value of the Philippines to China, by Beijing’s correct calculus, Manila would be much easier to deal with (read: seduce) than Islamabad. Hence the huge disparity in the economic assistance that President Xi Jinping has extended to the two countries.

The importance of the Philippines to China is primarily geopolitical in nature: Due to its virtually uninhabitable lands in its western two-thirds part, comprised of towering mountains, vast deserts, and arid plains, China is actually a narrow coastal state similar in size to the western coastal US states of California, Washington, and Oregon. Most of China’s people, cities, industries, and ports (eight of which are among the world’s biggest) are found on its verdant and unprotected part, known as its coastal crescent and heartland.

The oppression and humiliation of China by the rapacious invading Western powers in the 19th century repeatedly exposed that coastal vulnerability. Chinese leaders vow that such humiliation will never happen again.

Although publicly, Xi Jinping admits that China still needs more than two decades to catch up with America, he is not leaving anything to chance. That’s why he has been aggressively undermining US power in Asia through Obor, and by strengthening China’s control of its “nine-dash line” and “first island chain,” stretching like a horseshoe from Western Japan to the Philippines, Borneo, and the other littoral countries in the South China Sea. Hence China’s rapid militarization of islets and artificial islands in the SCS, some of which are clearly within the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone—a naked invasion by any definition.

By capitulating to China, Malacañang has only emboldened it—and rewarded its bad behavior.

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Narciso Reyes Jr. (ngreyes1640@hotmail.com) is an international book author and former diplomat. He lived in Beijing in 1978-1981 as bureau chief of the Philippine News Agency.

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