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COMMENTARY

To reclaim West PH Sea, look to 3rd French Republic

05:05 AM February 20, 2018

“Wishful thinking” was how Sen. Grace Poe labeled presidential spokesperson Harry Roque’s statement that the Philippines will benefit from China’s construction of artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea, and that we will someday take over these islands.

Many have criticized President Duterte’s foreign policy, without indicating what it should be. The issue must be addressed based on the fundamental tenet that in the conduct of diplomacy, a small power has limited options and a superpower has many options. If the Philippines were a superpower, it could in the current dispute send an ultimatum to China to dismantle its artificial islands, as then US President John F. Kennedy told Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1962 when the latter installed nuclear missiles in Cuba. Or we can blow up the artificial islands with smart bombs, sink China’s supply ships, etc.

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Given our limited options, our diplomacy should be patterned after that of the Third French Republic. An outcome of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 was France’s loss of Alsace-Lorraine to the Germans. By 1870, Germany had become the dominant power in Europe, the main reason being there were then 60 million Germans against 40 million Frenchmen. France viewed Germany’s possession of Alsace-Lorraine as a continuing threat to France. Thus, French diplomacy was based on one constant: Germany was France’s permanent enemy.

France as the weaker power played the traditional balance-of-power game by forming alliances with other countries, mainly the Triple Entente with Great Britain and Russia, to offset German power. France regained Alsace-Lorraine after World War I, ceded it back to Germany early in World War II, and then regained it permanently after that war. It took 74 years — from 1871 to 1945 — before France achieved its goal of regaining Alsace-Lorraine. Even more important, the French foreign policy that was centered on Germany as its permanent enemy survived the turbulent politics of the Third Republic. Whichever administration held office in France, whether left or right, maintained the same foreign policy.

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Our diplomacy on the West Philippine Sea is deeply flawed. We have aligned ourselves with China. In the event of war, China’s victory will make its possession of these islands irreversible. Necessarily, we must be against China and on the winning side to reclaim these islands. Even if we end up on the losing side, the worst scenario is we will be in the same predicament we are in now, with China in possession of the artificial islands.

The Duterte administration is ignoring the threat posed to our national security by the presence of Chinese military bases close to our shores. In addition, instead of forming alliances with other countries that share our interests on the West Philippine Sea, we have divested ourselves of allies and taken on China one on one. In a confrontation between a lion and a rabbit, it’s predictable who will get the lion’s share. As expected, we have been the victim of China’s endless bullying. And it has gone on to build artificial islands, eventually militarizing them.

To emphasize the perverse thinking of our current officials, in any war only the members of the winning coalition get benefits. Never in history has it been shown that the partner in a losing coalition benefits. Thus, siding with China, as the Duterte administration has been doing, forecloses the possibility that we will regain control of the West Philippine Sea. It must be noted that there are other aspirants with claims overlapping our own in the area. If Vietnam opposes China in a shooting war and ends up on the winning side, Vietnam will be able to claim all those areas in the West Philippine Sea that overlap our claim. We will be left out in the cold

Hopefully, the Duterte administration will adopt a winning foreign policy that we can pass on to succeeding generations until we reclaim the West Philippine Sea.

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Hermenegildo C. Cruz holds a degree in international development jointly conferred by Tufts and Harvard Universities. A retired ambassador, he was posted to Canada, the United States and the Soviet Union, and was able to observe “the complexity of running a federal system of government.”

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TAGS: 3rd French Republic, China-Philippines relations, Grace Poe, Harry Roque, hermenegildo c. cruz, Inquirer Commentary, Maritime Dispute, Philippine foreign policy, Rodrigo Duterte, West Philippines Sea
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