IN a cacophony of stereotypes, two complement each other to nail the issue on the South China Sea once and for all: Truth hurts, and the truth shall set you free.
I won’t need the advice of a former British prime minister to state my take on the recent pronouncement by Chinese ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua on the arbitral ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at the Hague on Chinese-Philippine conflict. Although Asian culture is richly endowed with artifice and the Asiatic people are heavily inclined to much color and metaphor in expressing their sentiments, on the matter of political disputes, questions are resolved invariably with pure candor among disputants.
So, Zhao says something on the PCA ruling, take it for what it is, no more no less: “Beijing’s position on the arbitration has been clear since it was filed before the Hague-based international tribunal. When the result of the arbitration came out, we also expressed that we will not accept it and we will not recognize it and that position has not changed and it will not be changed,”
No amount of condescending to European guideposts for political good manners and right conduct could ever be hoped to alter the latent essence of that statement. Nothing less could be expected from Zhao whose daily wear mirrors a character strongly steeled in high puritan Chinese, oriental demeanor.
Toward the end of 2015, I already dared declare that the arbitration case would be decided in the Philippines’ favor. In my article published in this column June 18, 2016, I wrote:
“China did submit one manifestation at the start of the arbitration, but it did so only for the purpose of clarifying its position on the conflict. After that it made it clear that it was not recognizing the proceedings.
“China insisted from the commencement of the arbitration that sovereignty is at issue in the case, so that the PCA, as China made it clear years back, has no power to delimit maritime boundaries; such power would not be part of Unclos functions China agreed to.
“It would be much unlikely, therefore, to expect that China would agree to a ruling that many of the reefs it has occupied and has undertaken much military buildup on already are not islands and, therefore, cannot generate entitlements and exclusive economic zone for it.
“From consideration of the physical aspects of those contested reefs, it would seem the Philippines will win the case to the extent allowed by Unclos. But considering the intransigent position of China that those contested reefs are part of its historical sovereignty, the Philippines may have to be prepared for a highly escalated conflict.”
In certain published accounts, a number of questions have been posed to Zhao. For instance, does China recognize and respect the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Republic of the Philippines, as this is defined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), to which China is also a signatory? Or does China claim parts of the Philippine EEZ, in line with its claim over the entire South China Sea, and what is the basis for this sweeping territorial claim? And does China also claim sovereign rights to exploit the resources in the Philippine EEZ?
Answers to these questions have been made from as far back as 2009 when China issued a note verbale to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, which, in sum, sought to dismiss the submission by Vietnam to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf regarding Vietnamese claim of certain portions of the South China Sea.
Calling the Vietnam Submission as an infringement on Chinese sovereign rights, China asserted in the note verbale: “China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea, and the adjacent waters, and enjoys sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the relevant waters as well as the seabed and subsoil thereof (….). The above position is consistently held by the Chinese government, and is widely known by the international community.”
In other words, the questions posed to Ambassador Zhao now have long been answered by China and raising them again this time is not at all a clarificatory move; the clarification had been done a decade ago.
What those questions actually accomplish is not seek replies but underhandedly damn China for its pictured aggression of Philippine territory. Fanned everywhere, in all spheres of the tri-media, asking the questions at this hour is particularly alarming.
Witness how other issues are being raised against China: the cries of protests against the online gaming Chinese work force; the conversion of certain islands in the north into Chinese tourist spots; the outcries of leftist groups against the Kaliwa Dam project meant to solve with Chinese funds the perennial water shortage in Metro Manila; the so-called swarming by Chinese militia vessels in the Scarborough Shoal fishing grounds and immediate environs, not mentioning at all that among the fishing boats that swarm the area are also vessels from Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, etc.
Particularly suspect is the release to the media of satellite images of such swarming taken years ago but depicted as current.
Of late, there seems to be a good-cop-bad-cop tandem between Defense Secretary Lorenzana and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin Jr. whereby the former makes an outright damning of China (for instance, on the issue of Chinese maritime survey ships) and the latter takes the leveling stance (Locsin levels up on Lorenzana’s castigation of China by proposing a universal ban on maritime surveys in Philippine waters by foreign ships).
Bottom line is, the economic war has been an imperative for the US to resolve through military confrontation in which it hopes to have the advantage.When just recently the United States pulled out of its Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty with Russia, that could be for the singular purpose of removing encumbrances to its worldwide nuclear arms capability. This means the US can now establish nuclear warhead launchers in Philippine military bases, as the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the US and the Philippines allows. In fact, right after the US INF pullout, US Defense Secretary Esper ordered the deployment of US nuclear missiles in Asia, the first nations to be ordered deployed with nuclear missiles being Australia, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.
So when somebody questions Chinese Ambassador Zhao on why China is building forward military bases in the South China Sea and does China have the right to exploit Philippine marine resources, it is not in order to get answers to the queries. Rather, it is to deliver the warning to stop or else the US is now ready to attack.
Can Ambassador Zhao be cowed?
To reiterate, the truth he tells should set us free from our anti-Chinese prejudices: “When the result of the arbitration came out, we also expressed that we will not accept it and we will not recognize it and that position has not changed and it will not be changed,”