Wednesday, April 25, 2012

China's bullying must stop

A small and weak nation can defeat a big and strong nation,” thundered the Communist Party of China way back in 1970 in a scathing commentary on the Vietnam War that by then had been tilting in favor of the Vietnamese as broad antiwar sentiment forced Washington to de-escalate the war and later agree to multilateral peace talks. Despite the technological superiority of American forces, the Vietnamese finally overran Saigon in 1975, paving the way for the unification of North and South Vietnam.
China’s current leadership, however, apparently forgets the lessons of history and has more and more resorted to bullying smaller nations in this part of the world in a bid to assert regional hegemony.

Chinese bullying has become glaringly evident in its response to recent Philippine efforts to accost eight Chinese fishing boats for poaching marine life in Scarborough Shoal. The Chinese fishing boats had actually collected a big number of endangered species. However, two Chinese surveillance ships stopped the Philippine Navy flagship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, from carrying out its legitimate duty to patrol Philippine waters. Thus, the tense standoff that persists to this day.

Beijing cites history dating to as far back as 2,000 years ago for its claim to the Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Group of Islands. It also submitted to the United Nations in 2009 a map drawn up in 1947 that contains a “nine-dash line” that is supposed to delineate its maritime borders.  But the shoal is about 230 kilometers from the main island of Luzon, while the nearest Chinese land mass is Hainan province, 1,200 km to the northwest, according to Philippine naval maps.

The Chinese historical claim, therefore, stands on shaky legal ground. Moreover, it runs contrary to the exclusive economic zones defined by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, or Unclos.

Far more worrying is China’s bellicose attitude in backing up its territorial claim. The Global Times, a newspaper run by China’s ruling Communist Party, issued a warning in an editorial last weekend of a potential “small-scale war” to end the Scarborough Shoal standoff. “Once the war erupts, China must take resolute action to deliver a clear message to the outside world it does not want a war, but definitely has no fear of it,” the editorial said.

This belligerence toward the Philippines and other claimant countries is uncalled for, and raises serious doubts about China’s claim of “peaceful rising.”

The Philippines should continue to assert sovereignty over the Spratlys by deploying our Navy and Coast Guard vessels to patrol the area as proof of our determination to assert national sovereignty.

At the same time, the government should seek a diplomatic solution to the impasse. It is on the right track in asking partners in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to take a stand on the territorial dispute.

President Aquino has indicated that the Scarborough issue would be formally raised in talks between Foreign Secretary Alberto del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and their US counterparts Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta in Washington next week.

While this move could further anger China, which insists that the United States should have no role in the dispute, this is the right thing to do amid China’s warmongering.

The Philippines should stand pat on its absolute and indisputable sovereignty over Panatag and other islands in the Spratlys even as it seeks international support for its stand based on Unclos.

The Business Mirror | April 24, 2012 | Article Link

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