Hit China where it hurts
Filing diplomatic protests against China due to its aggressive maritime actions in the West Philippine Sea is important.
It officially puts on record the Philippines’ displeasure over the actions of our behemoth neighbor which, until recently, had regularly made hypocritical claims of amity and friendship toward us. But it is becoming increasingly clear with each Chinese provocation that there are limits to what protests lodged by the Department of Foreign Affairs, notes verbales, and summons sent to Beijing’s ambassador can achieve.
To date, the Marcos administration has filed over a hundred diplomatic protests. But if recent events are any indication, they have been completely ineffectual in getting China to change its bullying behavior while occupying territory that is well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
Never mind that the world has rebuked China for its illegal occupation of territorial waters in the South China Sea. Its leaders in Beijing don’t seem to care, or they pretend not to, and simply go on with repeating their fantasy of owning the entire sea delineated by their spurious nine- and 10-dash lines.
It is also clear that the Philippines’ options are constrained by the limits of good behavior that the country adheres to.
Unlike China, our resupply ships do not use water cannons to force their way to BRP Sierra Madre to bring food and water to our gallant soldiers doing the lonely job of guarding against the encroachment of our territory.
Unlike China, our sailors do not flash lasers at other vessels in an effort to blind their fellow sailors and endanger navigation. Unlike China, the Philippines does not send other actors like the Chinese maritime militia to permanently occupy the disputed seas while giving their government the ability to claim that they have nothing to do with the act.
Unlike China, we don’t send our dredgers to reclaim islands out of the sea and make them into permanent military outposts.
And unlike China, this country does not profess undying friendship to a neighbor with a handshake using the right hand while the left hand simultaneously steals and stabs us in the back.
We could do all those, of course. But we don’t, for the Philippines abides by rules of civilized behavior and international law. We do this not just in word, like China loves to do, but in deed, which Beijing’s bullies are clearly loath to.
What then are the options available to Filipino policymakers in response to China’s increasingly belligerent actions which are becoming more provocative.
The international condemnation that swiftly followed last Sunday morning’s China Coast Guard-induced collision with a Philippine civilian vessel en route to resupply the country’s rickety naval outpost provides clues as to the best direction our country should take. Within hours of the incident, China’s actions were condemned by the governments of the United States, Japan, Germany, Canada, France, and the Netherlands—six major industrialized nations that hold heavy sway in the world of international relations.
It is to this wider audience that the Philippines must turn its voice of protest instead of Beijing’s covered ears.
With the aid of our foreign allies, both near and far, Filipino leaders must return to the international stage to make our plight heard by the people who can force China to change its ways.
We’ve already shown that we can successfully plead our case in the international arbitral tribunal which handed us a sweet moral victory in 2016. We must now go before the United Nations General Assembly, tedious and long though the process may be, to state our case against China for all the world to see and hear.
Our military strength may be puny compared to China’s but our moral weapons are nothing short of nuclear, figuratively speaking, when juxtaposed against our neighbor’s pretenses and duplicity.
That we stand on the side of right is our mightiest weapon, and we should use it against Chinese encroachment. We don’t want a physical confrontation with China though we now have some means to inflict the proverbial “bloody nose” on them thanks to our strengthening military stance. But we need to squeeze China’s pressure points where it is most sensitive to pain: the country’s carefully curated image of respectability on the international stage.
For many years, we’ve tried to be reasonable and have appealed to them on many levels, including kowtowing to Beijing, no thanks to the previous administration. All that and the hundreds of diplomatic protests have done nothing but embolden the Chinese leaders to continue trampling on Philippine rights. With the help of our staunch democratic allies in the West, the Philippines now has all the moral might to expose China for what it truly is: a bully interested not in good neighborly relations but hegemony at all costs.