Pragmatism can triumph over fear in Huangyan dispute

Source:Global Times Published: 2012-10-11 22:15:00


Illustration: Liu Rui
Illustration: Liu Rui

Editor's Note:
The Philippines' latest military deployment near the South China Sea on September 30 and Philippine President Benigno Aquino III's administrative order to rename the sea in mid-September further strained the already cooling bilateral relation since a Philippines warship challenged Chinese fishermen near Huangyan Island in April. What are causes of the tensions? And what are the possible solutions? Two Chinese experts shared their views with Global Times reporters Ma Qingyan and Jin Jianyu in Manila.
Spain's legacy
Benito Lim, professor with the Chinese Studies Program at Ateneo De Manila University

Filipino fears of China and deep distrust of the Chinese people are the legacy of 300 years of a Spanish colonial government's hate campaign against China and the Chinese traders in the Philippines.
Spanish fear of Chinese invasion even led to anti-Chinese violence and the subsequent massacre of nearly 60,000 Chinese around 1650.
The US government, which bought the Philippines from Spain for $20 million, did not bring an end to anti-Chinese practices, but carried on Spanish anti-Chinese policies.
The current territorial disputes in Asia have been resurrected by Washington after the Obama administration decided to shift the US center of gravity to the Asia-Pacific region by resurrecting unresolved territorial disputes in order to divide and rule the region.
Clearly the Philippine leadership welcomes the US pivot, especially Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's promise to help the weak claimants settle their disputes with China over the South China Sea.
Harry Thomas, US ambassador to the Philippines, has told his Filipino audience in several press conferences that "the US would come to the rescue of the Philippines in the event of an armed confrontation with China."
However, when the US declared its neutrality over territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the Filipino people felt abandoned and the leadership had to change its plan from relying on US help to seeking means and ways to modernize its armed forces in order to defend itself against armed attacks from other claimants.  
It is unlikely that the Philippines will move to strengthen its claim over Huangyan Island by renaming the sea or by complying with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) requirement for claiming maritime territories, since it would aggravate the already cooling bilateral relations of the two nations.

No doubt the long standoff has caused political discomfort for both the Philippines and China. But since Asians are pragmatic people, both sides are likely to postpone their claims and move on to pursue, work and cooperate on the more realizable, constructive, and mutually beneficial goals.
Win-win development
James G. Dy, governor of the Philippine Constitution Association

The Philippine government still believes that its "territorial claim" over Huangyan Island is covered by the UNCLOS, which says that waters within 200 nautical miles from a nation's baseline of territorial sea are considered as its exclusive economic zone. However, China holds that it has indisputable sovereignty over Huangyan Island, as it claims that all the islands in the South China Sea have been China's territory since "ancient times."
As a result, China will never agree with the Philippine proposal to settle the dispute under the UN framework, which is definitely disadvantageous to China.
Since it is hard to address the issue in the short term and the continuing dispute will further whip up the tensions between the two nations, the best solution is to shelve the conflict and develop the resources together.
I propose the Chinese government convey its sincerity by offering detailed plans to the Philippines, which will be criticized if it doesn't agree to the cooperation. Chinese developers can also consider funding Philippine companies if they lack enough money to jointly exploit the resources. This will be a win-win deal.
As to the renaming of a part of the South China Sea to the "West Philippine Sea" in accordance with the administrative order signed by Aquino on September 12, I think we need to take the president's political status into consideration.
Aquino himself has Chinese blood, but he has no choice but to adopt an anti-Chinese policy, otherwise, he may receive a sea of criticism from politicians and the public.
The unseen hand behind the Philippine administration has played an important role in Manila's latest military moves, for example, the deployment of 80 US marine corps officers and soldiers to the Western Military near the South China Sea on September 30, a move its military official claimed as "defensive" rather than "aggressive."
The move is also a show of Manila's fear of "failing to claim" the sovereignty over Huangyan Island by intensifying its military presence near the South China Sea.

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