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Might isn’t right

/ 12:08 AM April 10, 2014

I find the full-page statement by the Chinese government in another newspaper offensive. Not only does it ignore the aggressive actions it’s taken, it also makes a demand that does not fit the modern globalized era. The tone of the message was not of one seeking a mutually agreed solution, it was one of putting across a demand that its belief be accepted unquestionably.

I see nothing wrong with going to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea or Itlos (the tribunal for disputes arising out of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, of which China is a signatory)  and everything wrong in arrogantly stating that the contested waters are indisputably China’s. They are not, they are disputed.

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If China genuinely believes it owns all those territories, then there’s no reason it shouldn’t prove this in a court of law. China is part of an international community of nations that more and more are learning to live together, with some very sad exceptions. I hope China is not going to add to those exceptions.

I fully support the President’s strong—and, I believe, correct—stance on this, and I was pleased to see the United States supporting him and moving to take that support beyond words. To reduce the tensions China is building up, the Philippines and the United States should move swiftly to sign the agreement on enhanced defense cooperation. I’d like even to see more US warships moving into the international waters called the South China Sea. The name, by the way, does not denote that China owns them, only that they are geographically south of China. It’s necessary to send a strong message: Chinese adventurism will be opposed.

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You can be sure the Chinese proletariat closely watched Russia’s success at annexing part of Ukraine with barely a slap on the wrist from the world. That it will harm Russia on the economic front will be of little consequence. China will believe, probably rightly, that the world can’t do without it. And the strong public support being generated will only embolden it further. But China’s leaders might want to reflect on the fact that many of the world’s leading nations have expressed concern at how China is handling this; surely that should give them cause to reconsider what they are doing.

China could hurt the Philippines. There are nearly 200,000 overseas Filipino workers it could kick out, but that’s only 2 percent of the world’s acceptance of them, and I think some sympathetic governments may take them in. Trade, the legitimate kind (there’s reportedly far too much that isn’t), is only 13 percent of the Philippine imports, and it only exports 12 percent of its total exports. So it would hurt, but not too much; it’s something the Philippines can live with. If it were done, it would show the kind of country China has become. And that isn’t the way responsible nations play, so I hope it’s not something China would consider.

China’s published statement even said: “to promote a peaceful settlement of disputes through bilateral friendly consultations and negotiations in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law.” If that were so, then why did China prevent a ship of the Philippines from provisioning some of its soldiers on a disputed shoal? Why didn’t China just complain of the ship’s presence? Kids use a garden hose to fight each other, adults don’t use water cannon. Why is China preventing Filipinos from fishing in disputed waters, but allowing their own to do so (and to take prohibited, protected, even endangered marine life)? Allowing both to fish until the dispute is resolved is the way good neighbors and friends would deal with it.

The statement of China said that in 1988, both countries agreed to joint development. So why is it stopping Filipino fishers? That’s certainly not joint development. We don’t shoo away friends, we welcome them in.

Much of the statement put emphasis on bilateral negotiations and the Philippines’ failure to engage in these. But whether the Philippines failed or not, I must again ask: Why has China started these aggressive risky actions? It says it is “the last country that hopes to see any turbulence in its neighborhood.” Yet it is China, and only China, that is initiating that turbulence.

It was China that started all this. For decades there’d been no problem, no contest. Everyone just went along, leaving things as they were. Then China got greedy for the wealth that is presumed to be undersea and initiated a number of aggressive actions. That’s not friendly action.

Interestingly, I read two columns on Sunday that disagreed with me, one emphatically so, claiming it is all a case of misunderstanding of Eastern/Chinese culture versus Western/Philippine culture, seemingly siding more with China. The other thought it crazy to consider Chinese annexation of Philippine territory, and that resolution can be peacefully achieved and China would not use its economic power in political retaliation.

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I wish I could be, but I’m not convinced by their arguments. I fear China will act even more belligerently. Let’s hope I’m wrong. I’ll be the first to admit so, but much as I hate this rush to file suit over almost every issue today, this is one where an independent, third party is needed. And which, culture or not, no one should object to on such an extremely important issue.  None of this was necessary; it could have been negotiated amicably over the years. There’s no rush needed, and if ownership can’t be conclusively agreed to, then just share whatever resources may be found. That’s what friends would do.

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TAGS: Chinese government, Filipino fishers, International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, Itlos, Philippine culture, South China Sea, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
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