“I again saw under the sun that race is not to the swift, and the battle is not to the warriors”
Since time immemorial, inter-state conflicts, wars in general are most often than not fought out of self –interest. A nation-state will wage war usually for two recurring reasons. Either a country will freely or will be forced to wage war against another state to protect itself against a potential enemy from invading its territory, or a state will freely or forcefully wage war against another state when it perceives that it’s neighbor is seizing its lands or resources. These are shared sentiments being championed by both China and the Philippines in justifying their individual claims to Scarborough Shoal. Both countries are strong in their assertions that the island is theirs. From the vantage point of the Chinese, they say that their claim to Scarborough Shoal is compelling. The Filipinos on the other hand, is also saying that their claim to the island is legitimate. Both countries are saying that they can prove that this island is theirs. But no one, no institution, no government nor any international convention or law at the moment can really ascertain the legitimate heir who has the sole territorial rights to Scarborough Shoal beyond qualm and doubt. There are legal and legitimate international bodies and mechanisms like the International Tribunal, the International Criminal Court in the Hague, and UNCLOS (United Nations Conventions on the Laws of the Seas) that could mediate and adjudicate the dispute, however, these existing international institutions and mechanisms are not at all definitive and decisive international instruments that could actually resolve the said conflict beyond contention and controversy. And this makes the problem solving easier said than done.
This brand of conflict between states is not at all new rather this is a common pre-occupation among states since time immemorial. The history of human civilization has been forged by this trade we call war for territorial expansion and accumulation for more resources for the preservation and expansion of self-serving interests of nation-states. That’s why words like “colonization”, “imperialism”, and “invasion” gained their glorious moments from the time of the Roman empire until contemporary times, precisely because inter-state conflicts most often than not, are waged in the name of territorial and resource based expansion for the maintenance and enlargement of the power, influence, and clout of a state, especially powerful states over another state or several states. Historically speaking, there are numerous cases that proved this assertion. For example, the bloodiest wars of the 20th century were waged by large and powerful countries like the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, Japan, Germany and France across borders for prolonged periods of time for the purposes of expansion of territory, accumulation of more wealth, and gaining both political and economic influence and dominion over less powerful countries. What China is doing, claiming Scarborough Shoal as part of its expanded territory at the expense of the Philippines even if it can’t show concrete and legitimate basis to these claims, bullying the Philippines to show its might and to demonstrate how vulnerable the Philippines in relation to itself, being an emerging superpower, to gain an upper hand on the said disputed island, is again another example.
But I guess the challenge for us Filipinos being in this situation is how to respond to this state of affairs. What kind of responses is there for us to take? How do we best react to what is happening at the moment?
Speaking of responses, Filipinos are reacting in an overwhelmingly emotional manner to the standoff between the Philippines and China. Many Filipinos are freaking out, which is fine, but to take this to extremes, as if, it’s already “the end of the world”, to the point that street protests and demonstrations are already being held in every corner of the world by Filipinos condemning and provoking China without any regard whatsoever, as to how these protest actions might affect our international relations with China, especially when it comes to trade, tourism and military security, is quite for me an exaggeration and counter productive to the goal of resolving the issue in a peaceful and calm manner. These protest actions though genuine and are legitimate rights of Filipinos to freedom of assembly and right to expressions, these kinds of initiatives are quite pre-mature to be staged to defend the Philippines, and would just further escalate the tensions between the Philippines and China. Diplomacy is still the best course of action towards the resolution of this conflict.
As a country, the best possible position we can take at the moment in the midst of the whole controversy on the Scarborough Shoal is to refrain from any aggressive and offensive stance because this would only complicate things and would provoke China further. But mind you, the reverse happened. The Philippine government took some tactical steps directed towards the dispute with China, which were very provocative, that led to the escalation of tension to the already strained relations between China and the Philippines. Call me unpatriotic or whatever, but I really do have some problem empathizing with the Philippine government at the moment in its approach towards the standoff it has with China on the Scarborough Shoal. I find it absurd for the Philippine government to hang on to its ever passé, ever conservative, ever naive and ever US dependent unfounded solutions to the crisis. The Philippine is vying and is convinced of the idea that, worst come to worst, if in any case the Philippines will be engaged in a military confrontation with China, the United States as an ally will back it up militarily speaking, that the United States will indeed wage war with China in defense of the Philippines appears to me to be both fanatical and a false sense of confidence. I find this aspiration if I can call it as such, to be so naïve and misplaced though romantic to say the least. To consider such an option, for me is a suicidal posture for the Philippines both domestically and geo-politically speaking.
Domestically speaking, with an ailing economy far from recovery for at least the next five years or more, plus the fact that as a country it is burdened already with other equally important issues such as corruption, political instability, insurgencies, etc., the Philippines can’t afford at all cost to wage war or any form of military confrontation with China or any other country because it will be costly on the part of the Philippines. War or military confrontation with China if in ay case, is indeed an expensive business, and I don’t think the Philippines is apt to this venture even with the assistance or military backing of the United States. Either way, the Philippines has so much to lose vis-à-vis China if it engages in a war or military encounter with the “quasi superpower”. The Philippines bluntly speaking, is no match to China’s military and economic might. Even the United States is struggling at the moment to match or catch up with China economically and China’s advancing military capacity. How much more the Philippines. This image of China is not at all an illusion, rather it is a fact we need to painfully accept and come to terms with. To acknowledge this doesn’t mean we are not anymore fighting for our right to Scarborough Shoal, that we are accepting defeat, that we are not anymore protecting our sovereignty as a country. Rather to acknowledge this reality offers an opportunity for the Philippines, first and foremost, to assess its strength, its comparative advantage or leverage vis-à-vis China. Accepting such reality gives the Philippines that opportunity to concoct the best possible strategy that could resolve the conflict without losing its legitimate claims to Scarborough Shoal, and without gaining an embittered enemy bowed to take retribution through possible clandestine and stealthy military scuffle, diplomatic squabble, squandered political goodwill typified by China.
Furthermore, the masquerade of procuring second hand military vessels and sending them along the Scarborough Shoal is really pathetic and counter productive to the already burdensome Philippine economy. I personally see it as a crime to actually prioritize or give attention to military spending when 60% of the people in the country are suffering from chronic poverty. The Philippines can’t afford to militarize the way China does because it would be a huge levy to our economy. Military spending on the part of the Philippines by buying second hand military vessels or armaments just to show to China that the Philippines can, is like committing a felony against the Filipino people who are not only deprived but thirst for a more effective and efficient delivery of basic social services, and are living way below global standard. To take this move and to continue pursuing this position is quite really self defeating for the Philippines. We don’t only waste resources buying second hand military vessels, which are not even to a barest minimal or slightest sense at par with Chinese military ships. Worst of all, in the long run, we will exhaust all our resources leading to our demise if we don’t stop this craze. With or without the military support of the United States, any military confrontation with China is to our disadvantage and a losing battle for us. We can’t afford this and we should avoid this option at all cost if we want to live in a Fun Philippines.
Then again, elevating the issue to an international tribunal using UNCLOS as a reference point is indeed a rational and legal move by the Philippines with a bit of a problem. Guess what! China is not amenable and does not agree with this option. Rather, China is opting for bilateral talks between itself and the Philippines, which to be honest is not at all a bad idea. Bilateral talks give the Philippines potential leverage to talk to China in a more calm and rational manner its contentions, propositions and reasons why the Philippine state is indeed claiming the Scarborough Shoal as part of its territory. Through bilateral talks both countries could possibly explore joint ventures making the most of Scarborough Shoal, which would benefit both states, therefore, forging cooperative and constructive relations between China and the Philippines, as oppose to swelling antagonisms taking place between these countries at the moment. This could be a win-win situation both for the Philippines and China. Who knows what might turnout if we engage in bilateral talks with China. We will never know until we try. Another option the Philippines might consider is to request ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) as a neutral party to mediate in behalf of the Philippines. This is a diplomatic course of action, which I think China is acquiescent with. This should be explored further because probably something more promising may come out from this alternative solution.
All the same, to be more pro-active in responding to the crisis, the Philippines should move away from looking at the whole situation from a “zero sum game” perspective or from a “glass half full half empty” standpoint. It should move away from the thought that China is the enemy, the culprit. It should stop from thinking that China is an opponent that we need to be hostile with and fight to defend our so-called right to the disputed Scarborough Shoal. It should avoid any aggressive or evasive efforts to resolve this conflict because this would only lead to nowhere and would only fuel the escalation of the conflict to unprecedented level which I am pretty sure, both China and the Philippine don’t want to happen. Rather, the Philippines should first and foremost, do its homework by probing where it can gain advantage or leverage over China on the said issue. It needs to be certain what it really wants, needs, and requires out of this issue, then look at how China sees these things, what it wants, and from there, it can start talking and negotiating maybe it be through a mediator, or maybe through bilateral talks. Either way, these are legitimate diplomatic means as oppose to pointing fingers and blaming China as the villain snatching a piece of island from the Philippines, which is just making the process of problem solving complicated and difficult. Again, the Philippines should approach the whole situation in a more pragmatic, rational and from an objective viewpoint devoid of any hint of overwhelming emotions that cloud judgments. The Philippine government should bringing into play a new set of constructive and workable possible solutions to the conflict that are based on the idea of mutual understanding in which many mutual and common needs between parties are met. A set of alternative and out of the box possible solutions to the conflict that are guided by the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence from the dictates of other states more specifically by the United States, are but imperative and compulsory. This I believe is one possible effective and compelling way in which we can resolve and transform the conflict.
By: Anna Rosario Dejarlo Malindog
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