MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 31 May) – If we have lost our territories in the West Philippine Sea to China, blame it on the national leadership’s failure to appreciate the country’s true worth vis-à-vis the conflicting interests of Beijing and Washington in Asia-Pacific.
The administration’s shortsightedness and lack of sense of history has prevented it from carving a foreign policy that will enable the Philippines to exact beneficial concessions from both China and the United States. For one, President Duterte has confined his arguments on the WPS question to its military dimension, that is, the folly of going to war against China which he said is inevitable if we assert our sovereignty in the disputed territories.
In short, Duterte sees the Philippines as a hapless state with no option other than surrender its sovereignty which has been upheld by no less than the Permanent Arbitral Tribunal.
Duterte, however, has never used the Tribunal’s 2016 ruling as leverage in dealing with China’s aggression. Maybe this just mirrors his general disdain for the rule of law; he prefers to weigh situations based on which side is capable of enforcing its wish through sheer force.
Such myopic pragmatism ignores what happened over a century ago, when the US, then a rising capitalist power, invaded the Philippines just when the Filipinos were on the verge of winning the war of independence against Spain. No one would refute that the Americans grabbed the archipelago because of its strategic location in the Asia-Pacific region. Control of the maritime area west of the country, with sea routes running from Japan to other Southeast Asian countries, to Australia and to the Indian Ocean and the oil-rich Middle East, spells economic as well as military advantage.
China, an astute state that, in the past, has dealt with European powers and wartime Japan, knows this. It knows, too, that it must control the South China Sea to prevent the country from being sealed off in case tensions in the region escalate. Japan is gradually abandoning its “peace constitution” and preparing for armed confrontation due to in part to its territorial dispute with China. Vietnam, which also claims some islands in the South China Sea, is no pushover having demonstrated the ability to face China in a full-blown war.
This explains China’s military buildup in the area, particularly in the WPS, moves that have alarmed the US and prompted it to send warships as warning to China.
The Philippines should have taken this war of nerves between the US and China in the WPS as validation of the area’s significance in the struggle for dominance in Asia-Pacific. It’s them who need us, not the other way around, something that our national leaders always overlook.
Hence, lured by high-interest loans and promise of large-scale investments from China that are yet to materialize, the Duterte administration chose to lay down its cards too soon and wasted a built-in advantage as a key role player in geopolitics in the region. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)