Why can’t PH do a Vietnam? | Inquirer Opinion

Why can’t PH do a Vietnam?

05:03 AM May 28, 2018

While the Philippines is mum on what moves it has taken to counter China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea, at least on the diplomatic front, Vietnam has been vocal in condemning China’s militarization of the disputed area.

On May 22, Vietnam, China’s ideological brother but mortal enemy, accused Beijing of violating its territory when Chinese bombers landed and took off from Woody Island in the Paracels—an activity that Beijing said was part of its training exercises.


“Vietnam demands that China stop these activities, cease militarization of the area, and strictly respect Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Hoang Sa islands,” Vietnam foreign ministry spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang said in a statement, using the Vietnamese term for the Paracels. She said the presence of the bombers in the area had an adverse impact on ongoing negotiations between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

Woody Island is being claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan. But according to an American think tank, the bombers could affect a radius of more than 1,000 nautical miles, meaning the Philippines is within range.


Earlier this month, Vietnam also called on China to withdraw military equipment from the nearby Spratly Islands in the disputed waters, following news reports that China had installed missiles there. Vietnam said China should show responsibility “in maintaining peace and stability in the East Sea” (the Vietnamese term for the South China Sea). It also said China should not “carry out militarization activities” and “withdraw military equipment illegally installed on features under
Vietnam’s sovereignty.”

The statement was issued after US news network CNBC reported on May 2 that China had installed antiship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on three Philippine-claimed reefs in the Spratlys that it had seized and transformed into artificial islands, then developed into military outposts—Kagitingan (international name: Fiery Cross), Zamora (Subi), and Panganiban (Mischief).

Unlike the Philippines, Vietnam’s claims over some parts of the Spratlys are not even validated by an international court ruling. And yet it continues to stand up to China.

But what have Philippine officials done except to say that the problem has been discussed in bilateral meetings with Beijing? Has Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano actually filed diplomatic protests against China’s incursions into Philippine territory, as he has claimed? Or is the government so enamored of the millions of dollars in loans and grants from China that it now allows Beijing to trample upon its dignity and honor?

All that we hear is presidential spokes-person Harry Roque saying that the government is taking diplomatic initiatives but is “not making a big deal out of it.”

At least President Duterte has been candid in saying that the Philippines will not wage a war with China that it cannot win.

Of course, we all know that to go to war with China would be the height of stupidity. But there must be a way, short of going to war, to stand up to, or remind, China that the reefs that it has occupied and developed into military bases belong to us, and that our sovereign rights over these areas are clearly spelled out in the arbitral ruling from The Hague in July 2016.


I was among those who applauded the President when he initiated new foreign policy moves that weaned the Philippines from dependence on the United States. But it is sad that while we have now ceased to be subservient to the United States, we are now unabashedly subservient to China.

No foreign government will respect us if we, as a nation, lose our own self-respect. As Aristotle once said, “It’s impossible to win respect from others until you learn to respect yourself.”

* * *

Alito L. Malinao is a former diplomatic reporter and news editor of the Manila Standard. He now teaches journalism at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila and is the author of the book “Journalism for Filipinos.”

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TAGS: Alito L. Malinao, China-Philippines relations, Inquirer Commentary, Maritime Dispute, South China Sea, Vietnam, West Philippine Sea
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