Before visiting his “friends” in Beijing at the end of this month, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte needs a strategy lesson or two on how to stop Chinese vessels from invading Philippine waters. And he needs a lesson on how to stop China from turning the Philippines into a modern day semi-colony.
Duterte’s visit to Beijing comes at a time China has stepped up its efforts to assert that South China Sea is its own sea. In July and early August, Chinese warships sailed their way in waters south of the Philippines, raising maritime tensions between the two countries. Five Chinese naval ships passed through the Sibutu Strait, without notifying according Manila.
While the strait is considered an international sea route, the ship radars were turned off to avoid radar detection, they amounted to “deception,” according to the Philippine armed forces, quoted in the South China Morning Post.
That wasn’t a “friendly” act by Beijing, proving that Duterte’s strategy of appeasing Beijing doesn’t work. And he must look elsewhere for strategies that work.
Vietnam and Malaysia are the right places for that. The leaders of both countries have dared to do what Duterte didn’t: stand up to China, and have achieved better results than Duterte.
Vietnam did it in a brave and smart way, as discussed in previous pieces here.
Brave, by pushing for an accord that will outlaw many of China’s ongoing activities in the South China Sea, including building of artificial islands, blockades, and the deployment of offensive weaponry like missiles. And by mobilizing its forces to stop Chinese vessels that have entered its waters.
Smart, by enlisting the Russian oil giant Rosneft to search for oil in areas disputed by China. Like the “nine-dash line,” a vague self-defined borderline in which Beijing lays claim to virtually all of the sea. The presence of Russia in disputed waters was a game-changer for Vietnam. It made it extremely difficult for Beijing to confront the Russian navy, ready to defend the interests of Moscow in the region.
Both strategies worked. Last week, a Chinese survey vessel which has been involved in a month-long standoff with Vietnamese naval forces has headed away from Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
By contrast, Malaysia stood up to China in a bold way, on two fronts. At home, where it re-negotiated inflated Chinese projects; seized more than 1 billion ringgit ($243.5 million) from a bank account of state-owned China Petroleum Pipeline Engineering (CPP) over failed pipeline projects; and trimmed the cost of East Coast Rail Link project by one-third. And at sea — the South China Sea, that is — where the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) conducted a rare show of its missile power near the disputed maritime region last month.
These exercises were part of large-scale military drills known as Exercise ‘Kerismas’ and Exercise ‘Taming Sari’, against the backdrop of fresh tensions in the disputed waterways.
Vietnam’s and Malaysia’s hardline strategies against Beijing contrast with President’s Duterte’s soft-line strategies, which sought to appease rather than confront China, though he had both the international law and the American might on his side.
Judging from his public statements, Duterte’s logic has been that appeasing Beijing will save peace, and pave the way for Chinese investments that will create jobs for Filipinos.
Unfortunately for Filipinos, Duterte’s soft-line strategy didn’t work. China continues to assert its control over Thitu island, also known as Pag-asa island in the Philippines.
Then there’s the most recent incident in which a Chinese vessel sank a Philippine boat in what was described as a West PH Sea ‘collision.’
And there’s the recent announced sailing of Chinese ships through the Sibutu Strait.
Meanwhile, Chinese investments have been pouring into the Philippines, but they have created jobs for Chinese rather than Filipino workers, as was discussed in previous pieces here. And they lace Philippines at the risk of a debt trap similar to that of Sri Lanka.
That’s why it’s about time for President Duterte to take a close look at Vietnam’s and Malaysia’s strategies before his next trip to Beijing.