The Philippine Opposition is devoting a lot of its time and energy focusing vitriol on a “missile crisis” following reports that China had reportedly deployed tactical missiles on Mischief Reef, Fiery Cross Reef and Subi Reef in the South China Sea…
Citing US intelligence reports, CNBC said the missile installations marked the first Chinese missile deployments in those reefs.
The reefs are part of the Spratlys group of islands. At least six countries, including China and the Philippines, have competing claims over Spratlys.
Not surprisingly, the “analysis” of the situation by the Opposition works backwards from a small-minded summary presumption that this situation was brought about by the administration of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Opposition newsletter Rappler, for example, was quick to “report” the “expert” take on the matter of Senator Leila De Lima who is currently detained on charges of drug trafficking. Quick to serve as a platform for De Lima’s “dispatches” from prison (seemingly styled after Filipino national hero Jose Rizal), Rappler faithfully reports the jailed senators words thus…
“Apparently, in line with the President’s amorous affair with China, the AFP has chosen to play the monkey that sees, hears, and speaks no evil whenever it comes to China’s aggressive escalation of military capabilities in the West Philippine Sea,” she said.
The senator said that with the latest development in the South China Sea, the AFP “should stand its ground and impress upon their Commander-in-Chief in no uncertain terms that he is already pawning the security of Filipino soldiers and citizens in his effort to make his personal love affair with China a matter of national policy.”
You can almost imagine Mr. Spock’s raising an eyebrow following this affront to Vulcan reasoning.
It is interesting to note, in fact, that it was during the administration of former President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III when the relationship between the Philippines and China turned dicey. A botched handling of a hostage situation that resulted in the deaths of nine Hong Kong tourists in 2010 and the subsequent diplomatic fallout following Aquino’s refusal to apologise for the incident set the scene for an entire term of misunderstanding between the Aquino administration and Beijing.
Perhaps the evidently profound weakness in the Aquino government sensed by Beijing in this and subsequent missteps of the Philippine government was a cue for it to ratchet up its military adventure into the South China Sea. But even as other governments in the region met Beijing’s challenge tit-for-tat with military sabre rattling, the Philippines under Aquino’s leadership could only find it within itself to play the Victim Card. The position the Philippine government took under Aquino was to underpin its appeal for global support in its efforts to assert sovereignty over the territories in the South China Sea that it lays claim to is based on the painting of China as a “bully”.
The truth is, China has been beavering away at securing its presence in these territories for a long time. Considering even just the historical momentum at work, it is evident that nothing will stop China — no one Philippine administration will. Philippine “democracy” and its six-year cycle of disruption on governance makes a sustained Filipino effort to mount a strategic response to the Chinese threat next to impossible. That, plus a lack of a strong martial and technological tradition leaves the Philippines with few options. Not even Aquino’s dispatching of “senator” Antonio Trillanes to Beijing to initiate a foolish covert back channel “negotiation” changed an increasingly pear-shaped situation.
Without any military capability of consequence to, at least, effect tactical deterrence measures against Chinese forces in the SCS, the Philippines’ prospect of success through political and diplomatic initiatives lacked promise from the start. Yet the Aquino government put up an appeal to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague to sanction China’s actions in the South China Sea and decide on the validity of its territorial claims there. This despite the widely-recognised reality that such appeals are worth squat in real globo-politics. Indeed, China had, from the very start, asserted that it does not and will not recognise jurisdiction of the The Hague over this matter. Second, it had exhibited a wherewithal to invest heavily in the development of infrastructure and the colonisation of various islands in the disputed territory. And last and most important of all, a wealth of precedents have been set by other world powers ignoring any rulings by international bodies that are not in their favour.
Still, the Aquino government pressed on and won a favourable ruling on the appeal — essentially breaking an important rule in dealing with China: ensuring that the Chinese do not lose face. Having experienced exactly that as a result of Aquino’s handiwork, it is quite understandable why China is now beyond any further negotiation on the matter of its South China Sea activities. Yet BS Aquino put up this “victory” in The Hague as one of the crowning achievements of his administration. It is this dubious “achievement” that the Opposition now foolishly plays as the lame ace in its criticism of the Duterte government’s policy in dealing with China.
The Hague ruling on the South China Sea is nothing more than a quaint Western European notion that China categorically denies even exists as a factor to consider to guide its actions in the region. Yet the Aquino government — and now the Opposition — regarded it as a cornerstone of its China strategy. Aquino found license in the ruling and the perception that it would be backed by Western Europe to rest on his laurels assured that the China issue had been decided and resolved. This folly and the false sense of security it created was an administrative dysfunction inherited and is now being dealt with by the Duterte government today.
The China Missile Crisis is not a result of any recent actions on the part of the Philippine government. For that matter, none of what Beijing had effected in the region over the last several decades, could have possibly been the result of anything the Philippines did or did not do. Whereas Filipinos, no thanks to their limpdicked 1987 Constitution, think in six-year chunks, China thinks in 100-year chunks. What the government of former President BS Aquino did was serve as an accelerant to China’s grand plans in the South China Sea.
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