Yesterday’s headline that China has deployed missiles on three Philippine reefs is deeply concerning but not the least bit surprising. If one has dealt with China, of certainty is the stark inconsistency between what is being declared and what is actually happening on the ground.
Regardless of Beijing’s commitment not to militarize, China’s methodical upgrading of military aspects on the reclaimed features will surely and progressively continue. In other words, the salami slicing proceeds as planned.
Notwithstanding the fact that the arbitral ruling is now an integral part of international law, China will persist in flexing its muscles to threaten those who challenge the position that the South China Sea (SCS) is not Beijing’s lake.
President Benigno Aquino III ensured that we had undertaken all possible means – both bilateral and multilateral – to achieve a political and diplomatic solution to no avail. As a last resort, we pursued a legal track which resulted in an overwhelming victory for the Filipino people.
When the arbitral outcome was announced during the beginning of President Rodrigo Duterte’s term, the whole world awaited what the Philippines could and would do. Our new government unfortunately decided to manifest the softest diplomacy possible toward China by offering to shelve any discussions on the tribunal outcome.
Beijing’s calculated response was to advance as planned in further militarizing the reclaimed islands. Since diplomacy is about reciprocity, with such a response, should there not be urgency in revisiting our foreign policy strategy?
To begin with, should we be accepting China’s unlawful expansion agenda as a fait accompli that renders us helpless?
According to UNCLOS, what China has done and is continuing to do in the South China Sea is unlawful. We should therefore start from there, and not end there. Ergo, we should start by not allowing ourselves to be bullied into a position of acquiescence.