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Editorial

Missiles in PH backyard

/ 05:10 AM May 08, 2018

In May 2014, China installed an oil rig near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, an area also claimed by Vietnam.

Refusing to take the provocation sitting down, Vietnam fired off a strongly worded diplomatic protest: “Vietnam demands China to withdraw the oil rig Haiyang 981 and all of its ships and aircraft from Vietnam’s waters and not to repeat similar actions,” said its Ministry of Affairs.

Additionally, Vietnam sent 29 ships to try to stop the rig’s operations, with resulting confrontations and water-spraying incidents between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels.

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Vietnam also attempted to rally support against China’s actions at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, whose member-countries Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines have overlapping territorial claims with Beijing.

Vietnam even asked that the United States, its former enemy, lend a “stronger voice” against China.

Singapore, Japan, India, Russia, Australia, other countries and the European Union also issued statements of concern, urging caution against “unilateral actions [that] could affect the security environment in the region,” as the EU statement put it.

Beijing eventually bowed to the pressure. In July of that year, it quietly removed the oil rig — a full month earlier than was first announced.

What does Vietnam have that the Philippines doesn’t?

A leadership not the least bit beholden to China, for one. Vietnam’s sense of ownership over its claimed territories is such that it was willing to employ all possible actions — diplomatic protest, international consensus, even physical confrontation with Chinese vessels — to defend itself against the encroachments of its giant neighbor. And over an oil rig, mind — in waters that were still officially undemarcated under international law.

Contrast that with the Philippine position, which won tremendous international legal and moral standing with its 2016 victory in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

That ruling not only invalidated China’s so-called historic claim over almost the entire South China Sea, it also
declared that Beijing violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights to fish and explore for resources in the West Philippine Sea, waters that were within the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone.

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Those waters happen to include the Kagitingan, Zamora and Panganiban reefs — three features within the Philippine exclusive economic zone that China at first seized, then transformed into artificial islands.

All for peaceful purposes, it repeatedly said. But recently, with its reclamation all but complete and the Beijing-friendly Duterte administration not bothering to protest any of its actions, China has set aside all such pretense by confirming that it has militarized the area with the “deployment of necessary national defense facilities … aimed at protecting China’s sovereignty and security.”

The CNBC news network was more specific: It said China had deployed antiship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on the Philippine-claimed reefs.

Will Malacañang now wake up to the grave implications to Philippine national security of its policy of appeasement toward Beijing?

Strangely, President Duterte remains completely besotted with his Chinese friends.

Not only are those weapons not directed at the Philippines and hence should pose no worry, said Malacañang; according to the President, China has also said, “We will protect you … We are just here and you can call for our help anytime.”

What kind of help is gobbling up the territory of a friendly country and — in violation of its own promise in 2015 — arming that territory to the gills?

Certainly, war is not an option to settle this dispute, but why, on the other hand, embrace the extreme opposite position of deference and obsequiousness to a country that has repeatedly run roughshod over Philippine interests?

Acquiescence has obviously not worked; it has only further emboldened China to take advantage of a complaisant government. Look at what two years of bowing and kowtowing has earned the Philippines thus far: foreign missiles in its own backyard.

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TAGS: China missiles, Inquirer editorial, Maritime Dispute, South China Sea, West Philippine Sea
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