MIND DA NEWS: Facing Up to a Super Bully

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/ 21 July)– A small thin kid is no match to a muscle-bulging super bully. That is the lot of the Philippines against China. A super military and economic power, China – starting with her poaching fishermen – has been provoking the Philippines at Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal. When met with protest, China warned: “Don’t make trouble.” That is the way of bullies, what Filipinos see and believe.

Bullies respect no reason, no law. They are the reason, the law. That is China concerning the South China Sea controversy. Not only the Philippines has claimed parts of Spratly Islands – Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam do have.

On what basis does China claim the entire South China Sea? By its ancient maps, history and laws, the whole expanse belongs to China. That’s why the name is “China Sea.”

On what basis do the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam base their claims? By some bits of history and principally by the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as provided in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the four ASEAN countries have valid claims.  While these are overlapping, UNCLOS has provided how states could delineate and settle their overlapping EEZs.

EEZ extends 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) from the country’s coastal baseline. The Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal are more than 400 nautical miles from the coastal baseline of China. From the map, it is easy to see the overlapping EEZ claims of Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines over the Spratly and outspreading islands in South China Sea. China, from the coast of Hainan Island, is much farther away. Only Vietnam and China have overlapping EEZ claims over the Paracale Islands.

In the Philippines’ case in particular, Scarborough Shoal is more than 400 nautical miles from the Chinese coast while only 150 nautical miles from Zambales; Hasa-Hasa Shoal where  a Chinese frigate on patrol ran aground is only 60 nautical miles off Rizal town of Palawan. While China is urging “the Philippines to face facts squarely and not make trouble,” the call is a challenge laced with threat. That’s how it sounds to Filipinos.

By the UNCLOS, China and the four ASEAN countries have to settle their disputes peacefully.  They all say so. But China wants to talk bilaterally with each of the four that are proposing a multilateral talk. The latter proposal is more sensible. Since the four also have conflicting claims, the multilateral talk will resolve the conflict once and for all.

While there are no signs that they would talk soon, China supports with her military and economic powers her claims over the disputed islands based on legal and historical grounds. She has built naval stations in some; she sends fishing fleets with naval escorts to the EEZs of the other claimants. Plainly, she provokes – the very way of a super bully. How else would her weak neighbors see it?

The Philippines has nothing to fight the super bully. Navy? Air force? Brave words! They make the super bully laugh. The Philippine economy is at China’s mercy. She suspended the flights carrying 20,000 tourists; she blocked the banana shipments. President Aquino buckled down.

The ASEAN would have been a potent force against the bully. But, forget it. The ten member nations cannot unite.  In their prime ministerial meeting just weeks ago, the presiding nation, Cambodia – an economic dependent of China – blocked proposals to include the South China Sea disputes in their joint communiqué, hence aborting it.

China and the Philippines are both signatories to UNCLOS. However, citing its provisions, China refuses to submit their dispute to the International Court of Justice or to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). On signing UNCLOS, China declared under Article 298 that UNCLOS does not apply to disputes pertaining to its territories.  Hence, the Philippines can bring her case to ITLOS but China will not oblige.

From their position papers and related authoritative articles, the Scarborough question can be put to rest by ITLOS or similar United Nations’ arbitrating bodies. But China is so certain: (1) she owns Scarborough Shoal and (2) the Philippines will lose her case in ITLOS. So, there is no need – it’s a waste of time – to submit the case for international arbitration. Professor Wu Hui, an international law expert, wrote: “Tribunals Cannot Solve the Huangyan [Scarborough] Island Issue” [posted by the Chinese Embassy in Manila].

China’s alternative offer is bilateral settlement and joint development venture. Her final verdict:  The Philippines must face the facts squarely, by implication accept them, and should not make trouble. The “or else” hangs like the sword of Damocles.  For all her manifestations of “patience” and “magnanimity,” that verdict is what makes Filipinos see China as a bully.

If China is sure any international or UN arbiter will rule in her favor, why will she not submit the Scarborough issue for arbitration?  There is a thousandth percent (0.001%) chance the arbiter might rule in favor of the Philippines. She does not want to take any iota of risk.

How can a small thin kid face up to a super bully? Teng Jianjun writing for Beijing Review, posted by the Chinese Embassy in Manila, said it succinctly in his title, “A No-Win Standoff” – for the Philippines, of course. (Patricio P. Diaz/MindaNews)

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