DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/08 July) — During my long, informal chat with Chinese lady Ambassador MA KEQING in Manila sometime ago, I learned that there are about 14 countries that abut China where they share common borders. And of those, there are already 12 territorial agreements mutually forged that were quietly done on a bilateral basis. The remaining two left, INDIA and the KINGDOM OF BHUTAN, are still a work in progress. So, why can’t we Filipinos, also consider that route, without of course abandoning in the meantime international arbitration as another avenue? Since there are several cases on how China settled its border disputes peacefully with almost all its neighbors in the past, why can’t our Department of Foreign Affairs study them first before Foreign Affairs Secretary ALBERT DEL ROSARIO (whom I deeply respect and held in high esteem by the diplomatic world) go on his now trademark strong blast?
The reality is: we have to deal with China bilaterally even if we pursue third party arbitration. Why? Simply because there are no existing implementing mechanisms even if the United Nations rules in our favor. In that favorable event, our victory is euphoric, at the most. We still have to deal directly with China, I repeat, on a bilateral basis to have it done. C’mon, let’s all admit it. Assuming, arguendo, that China gets an unfavorable ruling, it will harden all the more. This is human nature. It will be more Asian if we detour from that route early and go straight to China and fight for our rights across the table with them. We can even shout at each other across the negotiating table, but that is done behind closed doors in quiet diplomacy. I bet you, we can get better results there than force the issue with an arbitration body that does not have teeth at all and whose process will only widen the gap and further alienate China from us. And please don’t place all our bets on our allies. Each country has its own internal interest foremost. Don’t expect the US or JAPAN or the rest of our friends to go to war for us. Let’s not fool ourselves!
And please, let’s not grandstand or boast about getting war materials in preparation for the worst. It’s good to raise the morale of Filipinos. And achieve some respectable level of preparedness. But not for war. Otherwise, other countries can’t help but giggle behind our backs!
Lately, I read somewhere that in spite of the “hot media exchanges” with China, it has quietly and patiently watched from the sidelines and did not interrupt, disrupt or interfere with the usual entry of Philippine Navy vessels into AYUNGIN SHOAL to replenish the supplies of Filipino forces stationed in the disputed area. Take note that Chinese naval forces have literally and effectively cordoned the area. But yet, it kept its peace. Yesterday, I read that the Chinese fleet reportedly left quietly, for one reason or another. (I hope Defense Secretary Gazmin refrains from crowing about it in the newspapers as if the Chinese is retreating.) This is something worth watching because if we allow the relationship to further deteriorate, that is an area that can be a sure-fire flash point. What if in the next re-supply trip, China does a blockade because we have “upped the ante”? Are we prepared to deal with it? C’mon guys, this is not a “Captain America” movie.
I think both China and the Philippines have sufficiently eyeballed each other in strong words and rhetoric. We’re lucky these bombardments remained an “acoustic war” just in the media. Before the situation escalates further beyond words and into some real trouble, let’s cut all those crap and pipe down. Publicly, no country would like to appear as a loser in this standoff. They will have to say things what their own citizens or audiences would like to hear. Both sides have shown how macho each one is. And how they zealously guard and uphold their respective territorial integrity and sovereignty. Their defense ministers have done this sufficiently enough. Well and good! But should we allow it to escalate to the next level? That’s C-R-A-Z-Y! (In capital letters). ENOUGH OF THIS CRAP!
Let’s not forget. Filipinos and Chinese have a long history together. We even have one umbilical cord as Asians. We know how to deal with each other. We can sort things out amongst ourselves.
But this can be done only in a quiet and healthy engagement. This is the work of diplomats. This is what the Foreign Affairs office should be doing. Unfortunately, this is not happening.
Enough of those angry and threatening words. They lead us nowhere. Back to quiet and sober diplomacy, everyone! (Author is the new Chairman/President of the Philippine Press Institute and former Philippine Minister in the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines EAST ASIAN GROWTH AREA. He served as Presidential Adviser for Mindanao, a peace negotiator, Press Secretary and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel. He is presently Publisher of the daily Mindanao TIMES and Head of Advocacy MindaNow Foundation, Inc.)