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Pragmatism wins

/ 12:24 AM November 17, 2016

The Inquirer editorial on Nov. 4 said, in discussing the return of Filipino fishermen to Panatag Shoal: “The problem … is that it is contingent on Chinese goodwill, it is at the mercy of Chinese whim, rather than the rule of law.”

Exactly right, and we’re all too aware of how inutile the “rule of law” is in the Philippines. Even if we do not like China’s stance, we can certainly understand it. The law has spoken and China has thumbed its nose at it. How many of the rich and influential have done that here? The Philippines has no power to enforce that ruling and it’s not a role or capability of the Unclos. The only entities that could have any ability to force China to obey a lawful decision are the United Nations and the United States; both have not done so. America has even said it won’t get involved in sovereignty issues despite the 1951 PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty saying it will come to its partner’s defense if attacked.

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The Philippines was attacked. No guns were used, but grabbing land legally owned by another country is war. America should have spoken out, should have flexed muscle. It crept away instead. Maybe President Donald Trump will be more assertive against China. He certainly will be on trade, if his campaign promises are upheld.

President Duterte knows China will not obey the law and no one will force it to. So, you can sit on your high horse and talk of national pride all you want. The reality is that China won’t give a damn. It will keep what it has stolen. There’s even the (high) risk it will take more.

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Thus, Mr. Duterte did the only sensible, logical thing: It became friends with China and worked some deals with it. And it’s working. Fishermen are back fishing where they were blocked before. In a clever stratagem, no agreement which could compromise either party was signed, as signing it would mean, on one hand, that China was admitting to acting illegally, and on the other hand, that the Philippines was seeking approval to use its own territory, thereby implying that China controlled it.

By doing nothing, no one loses. But the issue is left unresolved. This is not ideal, but Filipinos are coming home with fish and that’s enough for now. Things will change with time and people. Xi Jinping’s eventual replacement could well be more law-abiding, and the new US president more assertive.

The next goal to achieve is exploration for more gas, and oil perhaps. We urgently need to find new reserves to keep the natural-gas power plants running and to build more power plants using this clean energy. We can import, but that’s higher cost and puts continuous supply at risk. It’s better to have our own. I see the possibility of sharing in this, if we’re friends.

It’s neither fair nor right. But since when was life fair and right? Only for a lucky few, and the Philippines isn’t one of those lucky few where this bully is concerned.

Mr. Duterte recognizes this and, hence, is willing to sacrifice some national pride for national wellbeing. It’s an approach many won’t like, but others will agree it is—sad as it is—best to put some national pride aside for now and take a pragmatic approach.

Which brings us to this: What will Trump do? I’ve no idea, but I’m scared for the business of the world. But two maverick leaders may well get along together. Both are bucking the political establishment, shaking things up.

I don’t expect Trump will get around to focus on Asia, let alone the Philippines, for a while. Addressing the many problems he believes he sees within America will hold his attention for now.

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As to China, he has said he’ll get tough on import of Chinese goods and export of US jobs (as he sees it). So he could well throw the South China Sea mess into the pot and do a little forcing there, too.

I’m not taking his campaign statements too seriously. They were designed to capture votes—and did. He can’t bring jobs back to America; simple business financials tell you that. The tycoons will tell him that. People who want cheaper products will tell him that. So maybe he will hit China in another way.

E-mail: [email protected] Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com

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TAGS: China, Donald Trump, Maritime Dispute, panatag shoal, pragmatism, Rodrigo Duterte, South China Sea, US
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