The way China behaves in matters of external relations reflects far deeper roots than its current status as the world’s second largest economy, a foreign affairs expert said on Tuesday, noting that the Chinese underwent a long period of humiliation in the hands of imperialists.
Former Philippine Ambassador to the ASEAN Wilfredo Villacorta pointed out that when Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the leader declared: “Never again shall China be humiliated.”
“His words resonate to this day and have incentivized his country to achieve superpower status,” Villacorta noted.
“The imperialism by Western powers and Japan in China during the last years of the Qing dynasty marked the darkest age for the Chinese people. Major powers cut up China for themselves and imposed unequal treaties,” Villacorta said, referring to the years 1839 to 1949, during a lecture at the Ateneo de Manila University.
“This century is a main factor that shaped China’s behavior until now,” he added.
The Philippines is pitted against China in overlapping claims to portions of the West Philippine Sea.
The Duterte administration, however, has chosen to strengthen the country’s economic ties with the Asian powerhouse and not impose the arbitral ruling in 2016 which invalidated China’s historic claims in the disputed waters.
“The Tribunal concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’,” according to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague in July 2016.
“[Although] Chinese navigators and fishermen, as well as those of other States, had historically made use of the islands in the South China Sea, there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources,” it added.
China does not recognize the arbitral ruling, a stance that can be traced back to its belief that “international law and international organizations like the United Nations are but creations of the former colonial powers of the West.”
‘More assertive leadership’
Recently, the Washington-based think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative reported that Chinese Coast Guard vessels are making their presence felt in the disputed Ayungin and Panatag Shoals in the West Philippine Sea.
These ships no longer turn off their automatic identification system, signifying that they are no longer trying to camouflage their presence in Philippine waters.
Asked to comment on China’s aggressive moves regarding in the resource-rich maritime areas, Villacorta noted Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “more assertive” leadership style may be at play.
“Compared to Deng Xiaoping, the leader of China who replaced Mao Zedong and who liberalized the economy and political policies of China, Xi Jinping is more assertive,” he said.
“Xi Jinping is really more assertive, more articulate, and more firm than his predecessors,” he added.
The South China Sea is but one of China’s three non-negotiables Villacorta during his lecture—the other two being Taiwan and Hong Kong.
“In can be very sticky fighting for our rights vis-a-vis the historic rights claimed by China,” he said.
But all hope is not lost.
“I don’t think we should give up because we have already won the case. It’s just that there’s room for negotiation … We can come up with a compromise with China with respect to the West Philippine Sea. We’re talking about joint development, gas reserves. Instead of shooting each other, we should benefit,” Villacorta emphasized.
Security analyst and Philippine Association for Chinese Studies president Rommel Banlaoi noted sovereignty is definitely non-negotiable for China, but the South China Sea is a different story.
“The non-negotiable aspect in the South China Sea is the sovereignty claims, but the maritime aspect of the South China Sea dispute, that one is negotiable for China,” Banlaoi said in a separate interview.
“That’s why if you will look at the nine-dash line, it’s not a solid line, it’s a broken line. It means that China is open for negotiation on the maritime aspects of the disputes,” he added. —VDS, GMA News