A breakthrough in the South China Sea dispute?
Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio’s keynote speech at the Democracy and Disinformation conference in Davao last Friday presented the case against what he called “the fake news of the century,” the “disinformation of the millennium.” He was referring to China’s claim to almost the entire South China Sea, based on fraudulent, fabricated history. “This is the historical narrative of China, but this is totally false.”
The fraud is openly committed even by China’s supreme leader, President Xi Jinping. Before his visit to the Philippines last year, Xi published an article under his name in Chinese and Philippine newspapers, which included this big fat lie: “Over 600 years ago, Chinese navigator Zheng He made multiple visits to the Manila Bay, Visayas and Sulu on his seven overseas voyages seeking friendship and cooperation.”
However, as has already been proven by members of the International Zheng He Society (in other words, by scholars who have done research on the seven voyages of the great navigator), the Chinese admiral never set foot in the Philippines. “Zheng He never even saw the coastlines of the Philippines,” Carpio said.
What he called the “grandest disinformation [campaign] that a country has inflicted on the world since World War II” features many such outright lies, most of which can be refuted by Chinese sources themselves. Carpio discovered or gathered or marshalled many of the proofs of Chinese fraud. His “The South China Sea Dispute: Philippine Sovereign Rights and Jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea” is modestly described as “a collation of over 140 lectures and speeches on the South China Sea dispute.” It is, in fact, that rare combination: an important work of scholarship that is also a compelling policy document—and it is free to download from the website of the Institute for Maritime and Ocean Affairs.
But toward the conclusion of his speech, Carpio reminded his audience of students, teachers and civil society representatives, first, of the innate goodness of the Chinese people; second, that the dispute was with the Beijing government; and third, that resolution of the South China Sea dispute was not only possible but may perhaps be within reach.
Allow me to quote from Carol Arguillas’ report, published last Saturday in MindaNews:
“[Carpio] noted that some people are saying the arbitral ruling won by the Philippines against China in 2016 was a Pyrrhic victory, ‘but we have gone so far already and the greatest advance was just last November’ when the Chinese President came to the Philippines and the Foreign Ministers of both countries signed a [Memorandum of Understanding] on cooperation on resources in the West Philippine Sea.
“Carpio said that in that MOU, ‘China agreed to invest in a Philippine service contractor or to be a subcontractor of a Philippine service contractor and get 40 percent of the revenue, we get the 60 percent. In other words, China will become a subcontractor of our contractor and the service contractor is for energy. In the contract, it says ‘Whereas Philippines has sovereign rights over resources.’ That’s in every service contract that we issue. The service contractor acknowledges that we own the resources. China now will fall in line. So that is an implied admission.
“‘This is good for us,’ he said.”
That the solution, or at least one solution, may actually be around the corner is a bracing possibility. But I cannot be the only one with nagging questions.
Even if it is true that all the service contracts include Philippine sovereignty in a whereas clause, what is the guarantee that the service contracts with the Chinese subcontractor will also include it? What if Beijing insists otherwise?
And Beijing has proven remarkably thick-faced when it comes to denying or ignoring documentary evidence, even when the documents or the maps are China’s own. What is the guarantee that, even if the service contracts will include the sovereignty clause, Beijing will not continue to act as though it controlled the South China Sea?
When the service contracts empower a Chinese subcontractor to extract oil and gas from the West Philippine Sea, how do we ensure that, as Jay Batongbacal of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea has already asked, Manila does not “give up control and supervision of the activity”?
And wouldn’t entering into a 60-40 sharing arrangement with a Chinese subcontractor for oil and gas development legitimize the presence of Chinese ships in the area, including the likes of the reinforced Chinese vessel that rammed Gem-Ver 1 on June 9?
The Davao forum was not the right venue to raise these questions; having extended the invitation to him to keynote the conference, I understood Carpio’s main objective as creating greater public awareness of Chinese disinformation—the better to steel our collective resolve to insist on the right conditions for any resolution.
“Well,” Carpio said, “the President of course does not like me, but despite everything, he might be the President who will find the solution to the South China Sea dispute.”
That solution, it needs saying, must be supported by an aware, critical, determined nation.
On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand, email: [email protected]
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