TURNING POINT: A Friend to All is a Friend to No One

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 29 Nov) – The efficacy of the foreign policy stance of “a friend to all and an enemy to none” of President Bongbong Marcos was tried when he met China’s President Xi Jinping at the APEC summit in Bangkok and a little later with US Vice President Kamila Harris here in the Philippines.

In the side meeting with Xi, Marcos deliberately skirted the issue of the Chinese continuing negation of the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, which invalidated Beijing’s claimed historic right over nearly the entire of South China Sea (SCS). Marcos simply talked with him on a less contentious regional issue on the need to conclude the long stalled Code of Conduct for the South China Sea and for it to be binding for everyone in the area.

It was, needless to say, a safe way of avoiding a confrontation and remaining in a cordial relation with China.

The timidity was naturally welcome by Xi. Besides, it may take such Code eons of years to develop and by which China could simply sweep aside at whim any way when the time comes. For what are we way in power for? For the mean time, it will continue to expand its physical possession and its bullying in the SCS.

The PBBM-Xi meet means it is business as usual with China following the Duterte diplomatic blueprint of minion submission based on the doctrine that it is suicide to assert our sovereign right against China. So the safe practice has been that every act of aggression would simply be met with a diplomatic protest, with dumb endless note verbal till kingdom comes.

PBBM, of course, welcomed US VP Harris’ reassurance that the US is steadfast in honoring the Mutual Defense pact with the Philippines but was cowardly reluctant in walking a mile for it. Neither he nor VP Sarah Duterte accompanied the US Vice President in her side visit to Palawan to be right there at the edge of the troubled waters – the South China Sea.

Harris’ move clearly underscored US’s support to its treaty ally “in the face of intimidation and coercion in the South China Sea.” And yet, no one was there to stand with her.

Speaking while on board the Philippine Coast Guard BRP Teresa Magbanua docked in Puerto Princesa, Vice President Kamala Harris minced no words in urging countries to stand up for territorial integrity and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, which has been challenged by China, and said Washington would press an international campaign against “irresponsible behavior” in the disputed waters.

In urging countries to stand up for territorial integrity Harris was primarily telling the Philippines, PBBM, for that matter, to leave behind the Duterte servile policy toward the bullying giant China, and to assert our sovereign right.

Indeed, for our self-respect as an independent state, we have to stand for our territorial integrity and stop China’s repetitious intimidation, coercion and aggressive excursion in our sovereign waters. Neutrality is not the answer to our endless humiliation.

We need to use some strong diplomatic tool in our arsenal, next time around, to express our grave displeasure over China’s endless bullying and its pachydermatous stance of simply shrugging off our multiple diplomatic protests: it is by recalling our ambassador to China.

This approach is within our capacity and prerogative and does not require military might to execute. It is the strongest we can do to assert our sovereignty and maintain self-respect without provoking war.

However, when push comes to shove, we may invoke our mutual defense treaty with the US.

A “friend to all and an enemy to none” is a neutrality tune Marcos can’t dance until he abrogates the Mutual Defense Treaty with the USA. What he is doing now is not so much an issue of walking on a tight rope; it is begging the question whom are we neutral against?

At the end, a friend to all is a friend to no one.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)