Monday, December 21, 2015

Our position in a straitjacket

Our position in a straitjacket

Maybe the Department of Foreign Affairs and Malacañang are not aware that the international community is laughing at us for coming out with proxy foreign policy statements respecting our claim over the disputed islands in the China Sea.
Statements by Secretary Del Rosario and by DFA spokesman Charles Jose are almost identical with the pronouncements issued by Washington.   The Philippines and the US have been taking turns in defining our claim and in defending our position vis-à-vis against China.

Our neighbors in the Asean, specifically those countries that also have conflicting claims in the China Sea, like Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei, are confused, and are beginning to doubt whether such uncanny pattern is coincidental.
While there is no contradiction to what the US is saying, statements coming from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Malacañang appear to be identical with what Washington is saying, thus eliciting queries whether the Philippines is talking in defense of its claim, or that it is the US that is talking in our behalf.
This has been the observation of some political analysts.  They say our signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the US is meant to provide a supplementary force to the American forces in its renewed policy to contain China.  In that, one could deduce that it is the Philippines that is providing security to the US interest, and the core of that interest lies in the oil and mineral resources that could be extracted in the area.  
It is in this context why the US has sought to identify its interest with the countries in the region, pretending as ever to be concerned with the peace and stability in the region to camouflage its own interest. This explains why the ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of the parties in the China Sea (DOC) signed in November 2002 in Phnom Penh hit a snag.  Political pundits pointed the blame on US interference for freely speaking in their behalf. Such statements castigating China has only elicited negative reaction from Beijing, seeing it as an insidious interference on matters that should be threshed out by the parties directly involved.  To allow the US to speak on their behalf is to openly court the participation of the US, UK and the European Union in a dispute which China has consistently opposed.
The revelation by the Aquino administration that China has been carrying out land reclamation activities in the Mabini Reef, which the country claims as part of the KalayaanIsland groups, and the release by the Department of Foreign Affairs of a series of aerial photographs showing how the small Chinese garrison has been expanded to almost to nine hectares in just two years has not elicited sympathetic response from the ASEAN.  They could sense that Del Rosario’s announcement coincided with the comment made by US State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke on the report by JHS, a London-based security group, alleging that China was practically constructing a new island in the disputed Spratlys capable of providing an airstrip for aircraft and berthing for its vessels.
ASEAN member-countries could well surmise that to issue similar statements condemning the reclamation would amount to collaterally endorsing the US position which they fear could only complicate their claim for a peaceful resolution of their dispute with China.   It is on this  context why our position has somewhat made President Aquino, Secretary del Rosario  and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin look ridiculous, for evidently they now appear as speaking on behalf of the US interest in the region.
In fact, if one took a close hard look at our decision to bring our claim to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Hague, it would be, to most political analysts, a hastily sorted out decision that has only led us to nowhere.  The decision of China not to participate was expected, and that effectively narrowed down our options to negotiate.    As one would put it, the US has placed our position in a straitjacket. The administration knew beforehand that China would reject any attempt to put it under pressure to agree to an international arbitration.
Even if PCA is different from the International Court of Justice, just the same it cannot act or decide on an issue brought before it without the consent of the other party.  Invariably, China’s decision to slam the PCA order giving it up to December 15 to reply to our claim was forthcoming. It accused us of trying to bring in third parties which it finds unacceptable.   China said its refusal to submit to the jurisdiction of the PCA cannot be interpreted as a violation of international law because the consent of the other party to a dispute is required before PCA could decide on the issue.
The question now is, what are we going to do next to assuage that humiliation which Del Rosario has brought to us?   Surely, if countries that also have claims in the China Sea believe there would be something fruitful in that lackluster decision taken by Del Rosario, they would have joined us.  Alas, except for our Western brokers, we practically acted alone in pursuing that venue.  For that, we effectively trimmed down our options to reach an agreement for a peaceful settlement of our claim.    We cannot now retract from what we have taken without us now losing our face after that expected rebuff, and without securing Washington’s clearance.
Besides, China sees our position as nothing more but a definition of the US position which explains why it objected the memorial we submitted before the PCA.   For that, we effectively ignored the exorable truth that China today stands as an economic and military power, and there is no way we could stop that.   Rather, we choose to be blinded that China still needs the goodwill and friendship of its neighbors to maintain peace and stability in the region.   Only by understanding its centuries-old diplomatic practice  in dealing with its neighbors, like the  offer based on the original premise laid down by Deng Xiao Ping for a  cooperative partnership to develop and exploit the mineral resources in the area setting aside the issue of sovereignty, could we reach a reasonable agreement with China.
Thus, when China invited us to a joint venture agreement to develop and exploit the economic resources in the area, Del Rosario should have realized that China was in fact offering to us a partnership agreement, and that means whatever mineral that will be extracted there will be based on the agreed sharing as partners.  As partners, we assume that both are co-owners of the area and of the resources they could extract therein.   China cannot just exclude us without losing the trust of its neighbors because it was they that proposed and offered that ideal formula.   Sovereignty, for the information of Del Rosario, is another term for ownership, but has reference to state ownership or to people, if expressed in pursuit of their claim of independence.

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