In her opinion piece titled “Understanding China” (Inquirer, 6/6/12), Andrea Chloe Wong notes that China claims “what it calls the Huangyan Island [Scarborough Shoal] on the belief that it first discovered it, named it, and incorporated it into its territory.” It is not a matter of discovering a place but occupying it that is the essential basis of territorial claims. China never settled on Scarborough Shoal until recently, when it saw the potential oil in the area. Why did it not settle on the islands upon discovery?
Mere reference to their historical chronicles will not hold in an international court, that is why China refuses to recognize the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. A multilateral solution is “politically risky” for China. It prefers a bilateral approach because it is confident that a puny Philippines is easier to deal with one-on-one. It is also scared that its claim will not hold water in international law.
For China, the Scarborough Shoal is nonnegotiable. (The Taiwanese are building an airport in another island to fast track its capability to explore for oil. It will be hard for China to use force to drive away the Taiwanese and destroy its facilities, as this would invite a direct confrontation with the United States.) China announced a fishing ban off Scarborough Shoal, even as its ships continue to do illegal fishing. China is in fact protecting poachers on one hand and banning fishing on the other.
Wong writes, “On the diplomatic front, China arrogantly insists on its own approach of settling disputes.” Everything is unilateral for China—China’s wishes, China’s rights. But diplomacy means dialogue, not a one-way command. China has to listen to the Philippines, just as the Philippines listens to China.
Wong also notes the imposition of agricultural sanctions against the Philippines. Does this mean “viruses” in Philippine bananas are just a lame excuse? “China displays its military might to warn the Philippines from taking provocative measures.” It is China’s military which is being provocative.
Wong cites the Western view of China: “a belligerent nation… regarded as a resurgent empire treating its neighbors as mere tributaries that must bow to its inherent superiority… It is largely viewed as a ‘bully’ bent on putting pressures on the Philippines to yield to its demands…” All this is true. China is bullying the Philippines.