Bloodless ‘military’ victory possible in South China Sea
SINCE SPAIN first conquered the Philippines 495 years ago, this country’s destiny has too often been determined by great foreign powers. However, then President Benigno Aquino III’s suit at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2013 concerning the South China Sea has set the stage for President Duterte to develop a long-term peaceful solution to the claims of not just the Philippines and China but also of others.
Many in the United States, recognizing China’s precarious legal position, urge what will in effect be an unconditional surrender of its “historical” claim to the South China Sea, which includes all waters within the so-called “nine-dash line” that covers most of the sea. Many Filipinos who are now American citizens would urge a more restrained but ultimately far more effective long-term result. President Duterte’s proposed approach of reaching out to China and beginning a non-ultimatum effort to work together can be far more beneficial not only to the future of the Philippines but also to stability throughout China. As the great Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu stated in “The Art of War,” the greatest generals, those we should admire the most, never have to go to war to achieve their objectives.
As critics of rigid, unconditional-surrender policies—policies that caused the abandonment of the Philippines to the Japanese for almost four years during World War II—and as critics of policies that have left the Philippines well behind the majority of Asian nations in terms of economic progress, we believe there is much merit to President Duterte’s approach.
To ensure the effectiveness of this approach, the new President should consider not just the short-term beneficial ramifications of a diplomatic settlement (such as China establishing major industrial and employment bases in the Philippines) but also long-term solutions that will enable the Philippines to be independent of any one great power. For example, the Philippines should maintain its close relationship with the United States, but as many of us know, the affections of other suitors are not necessarily undesirable and can in many cases lead to favorable results.
This is especially important in the context of potential diplomatic changes over the next few years in the United States and China. Judging from the US presidential campaign, it is possible that competition for the affections of the Philippines will be enhanced should it develop a strong economic relationship with China. Similarly, President Xi Jinping will be replaced in five years, and as recent economic and political developments in China have indicated, the Chinese government may vastly alter not just its foreign policy ambitions but also how it goes about achieving these changed ambitions.
We therefore urge President Duterte to consider world history, particularly during the last 2,000 years, before embracing either extremes of “keeping the enemy away,” as urged by many in the United States, or freely embracing past opponents, as the present Chinese leadership might wish from the Philippines. In our opinion, practicing political art forms of the past, including “the soft power approach,” and rejecting unconditional-surrender practices promoted by the United States during World War II, may bring not only peace but a far greater prosperity to the Philippines and most Southeast Asian nations as well.
Faith Bautista is the CEO and founder of the National Asian American Coalition. Jeff Nino Lim is the CEO of the large primarily-Filipino supermarket chain, Island Pacific Supermarkets. Both were born and spent their formative years in the Philippines and are now US citizens, promoting a prosperous Filipino-American community supportive of the Philippines’ becoming a great nation through greater economic development.
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