What are our realistic options in the dispute with China?
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2013-02-07
Some of my Facebook friends have been on the verge of panic and exasperation over what we can do after China’s announcement not to submit to UN (United Nations) arbitration for our conflicting claims in the South China Sea. They’ve mistakenly presumed that the China snub ended the arbitration option.

Of course, it’s expected of China, the mighty dragon, to refuse UN arbitration and reiterate their preferred bilateral approach. If you’ve had the experience of dealing with Chinese businessmen, you’ll know that it’s de rigueur for the Chinese to take a hard stance in order to test your mettle and gauge the strength or weakness of your character. The ranting of some Filipinos — talking tough but doubtful frontline volunteers if war ever breaks out — do not help our cause at all. There’s no way that we can bluff or outtalk China to giving up their claims so easily.

President Benigno S. Aquino III (P-Noy) is well on top of the China situation and believe me — it’s providential that he’s our president at this time. P-Noy is well versed in intelligence and national security matters. Not only that, P-Noy doesn’t scare easily.

Bloomberg’s William Pesek was impressed by P-Noy’s “brass” that was displayed with our president’s stance against China. In his January 28 article, Pesek wrote: “Say what you want about Benigno Aquino, but the Philippine president has some brass.”

He continued: “First he arrested predecessor Gloria Arroyo on corruption charges and ousted her Supreme Court chief justice. Then he took on the powerful Catholic Church, shepherding free-contraception laws that enraged the Vatican. Next he ran afoul of the local tycoons by backing higher taxes on cigarettes and alcohol. By tackling these issues along with economic reforms, Aquino’s country is on the way toward an investment-grade credit rating.”

Pesek added: “Now Aquino is taking on an immeasurably bigger target: China. The Philippines will challenge China’s maritime claims before a United Nations-endorsed tribunal. This isn’t going over well in China, and it’s sure to raise tensions as Asia vies for oil, gas and fisheries resources and a ruling on competing views of history in contested waters.”

We’re playing the realistic options that our situation allows us to have. The other options — like building up the country’s military, air and naval capability to defend against Chinese encroachment — are a waste of time and money, and could simply aggravate the situation. If the US will not engage China — we may have to accept China’s terms and conditions on how to resolve the dispute.

We are suffering the fate of an underdeveloped and weak nation. Read history and you’ll see how weak nations are gobbled or dominated by the major power of that era. Neither man nor that historical trend has changed. Institutions like the UN have made it more difficult but the pattern goes on just the same, as seen a lot these days in the African continent.

During the Ancient Roman Empire, a people either fought (and got annihilated or enslaved) or accepted Roman rule (and function under Roman-appointed rulers like Herod). Let’s stop posturing like we have the military power of the UK or Vietnam. China knows that we don’t have the armed capability to defend against them. We simply look pathetic when we attempt to impress them with stupid bravado.

This is not to say that we should not resist or even protest China’s aggression. Patriotism demands that all of us Filipinos should contribute to the effort that will effectively defend our territorial rights ‑ but we must do so with the realistic means that are available to us. The bravado option makes us look like a moonshine operator in Laguna trying to scare my friend Ramon S. Ang that he will put San Miguel Beer out of business.

The UN arbitral tribunal could still proceed to act on the Philippine case against China based on the provisions of Article 9 of its charter: “If one of the parties to the dispute does not appear before the arbitral tribunal or fails to defend its case, the other party may request the tribunal to continue the proceedings and to make its award. Absence of a party or failure of a party to defend its case shall not constitute a bar to the proceedings. Before making its award, the arbitral tribunal must satisfy itself not only that it has jurisdiction over the dispute but also that the claim is well founded in fact and law.”

We should be elated that in our country we have more than enough brilliant lawyers to argue our case in the arbitral tribunal. Our tools in this conflict of arguments will be reason and communications acumen. If we present a powerful case and earn international support, China might be pressured to reassess its tactics and back off. China will have to weigh the gains to be made in the claimed territories in the South China Sea versus the price of losing face before the international community.

The international community would want to send China a message that it’s aggression will not be tolerated. An international boycott of China-made products will be very sobering.

* * *

Shakespeare: “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”

  Previous Columns:

It had to happen on The Ides of March and Holy Week

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Election lawyer: PCOS critics should put up or shut up

All Excited by Pope Francis

A great disservice to P-Noy

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