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China—a bully in the block

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China—a bully in the block

The biggest threat today is not the failure of the Bangsamoro Basic Law but war with China. Maybe not war in the traditional sense, but war in the dominance sense. China is determined to regain the power it had in the 15th century when it was the world’s most dominant country.

Its claim to ownership of 90 percent of the South China Sea is clearly preposterous. To say it’s based on history is laughable. History? Way back to 1947, it says. I was alive then; that’s current events.

The claim that its right is incontestable is as absurd and two-faced as everything else it’s saying. The claim is being contested—by the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan. If China truly believes it owns all this area, it would prove so in international court. That it refuses to do so is, in itself, admission that it knows it has no legitimate claim.

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If this is the way China is going to use its growing economic dominance in the world’s political scene, then the world, and particularly Asia, is in trouble. This is irresponsible action by a bully, by someone who knows he can ride roughshod over others. It is not how responsible nations act.

I applaud President Aquino’s stand on this. We may be a weak nation but this doesn’t mean we should just roll over and play dead. It’s sad that the Philippines’ neighbors don’t stand as strongly, but that’s sadly understandable. The large levels of trade and investment create a reality that leaders can’t ignore no matter how much they’d wish to. But then, if all of them did take a strong stand, what could China do? It couldn’t cut trade with all; it needs them, too, particularly as China’s economy and advantages are being whittled down. So a stronger group of leaders in Asia would be helpful.

What I find sad about all of this is that it probably wouldn’t have happened at all if the Philippine Senate had voted differently in 1991.

Twelve senators voted to kick the American bases out of Subic and Clark (against 11 who voted to retain). Now two of those 12 are trying to stop the Edca (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement), which allows US military forces to maintain eight small bases here. It’s really quite simple: The Philippines has no military power at all. This is no denigration of the Armed Forces of the Philippines—they are fine, battle-worthy men, but they don’t have nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and a fleet of battleships or the latest-model fighter planes or all the myriad equipage China has. So any war would be over in a day. The United States has all these things in spades—and China knows it. So why on earth would you make it difficult for a friend to help you stand up to this bully, which only the United States can?

This is misplaced nationalistic fervor, if ever I’ve seen it. The Philippines is a nation that its people can be proud of, one that can stand equally with anyone. Accepting the help of a friend should be done willingly. We have a situation today where China is commandeering areas that rightfully belong to other countries through sheer military force. I venture to suggest—and did so at the time—that the Philippines needs the support of a giant. Well, those 12 senators didn’t have enough self-confidence, and confidence in their country as an independent nation, to accept the help of a friend.

If the United States still had a massive presence in Clark and Subic, China would be acting far more cautiously, if acting at all. Having a huge naval and air force presence just hours away would give Chinese leaders pause. The United States is standing strong against China’s incursions, but it needs men and materiel close to the area under contention. We should welcome its wish to do so, even encourage a larger presence.

It probably won’t lead to war, but that can’t be ruled out. What it can lead to is annexation. As Russia has shown in Ukraine, it can take what it wants, and the world won’t stop it. Sanctions, yes, but you can survive sanctions and there’s a limit. The United States owes China some $1.224 trillion, and its estimated trade with China amounted to $580 billion in 2012. During the same year, American investments in China reached $50 billion. There’s an obvious limit to what it can do. War is unthinkable as it would too easily lead to atom bombs being dropped if one side becomes desperate.

So if China wants the Philippines, it can take it. And as its need for minerals is insatiable, and the Philippines has them in spades, the attraction is there. Your kids better learn Chinese.

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Am I being overly alarmist? I hope so, I think so, but we can’t rule it out completely, can we?

What can reduce the risk is the United States, Japan, Australia and whoever else would like to join, training their armed forces jointly, here on Philippine soil, thereby showing solidarity with us. It will send a strong message.

And for the 10 Asean economies to join together in a strong, united political stand.

But ultimately, the most desirable outcome is for China to stop its construction activities in the South China Sea and agree that nobody owns those islands and jointly explore the possible wealth of the area and share it if any is found, while leaving the seas and all air space open to free, unhampered travel.

It’s time for China to become a responsible member of the international community, not the bullying pariah it’s headed to becoming.

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TAGS: BBL, Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, South China Sea, territorial dispute, West Philippine Sea
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