How did the Philippines manage to enter into a diplomatic row with China? Well aside from China’s insatiable need to find alternate sources of energy, part of the reason why China seems very aggressive in laying claim over the disputed Spratly group of islands and the Scarborough Shoal apparently has a lot to do with the current government. Yes, it is likely to have something to do with President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino’s lack of skill in international relations and tact or, in short, diplomacy. And there seems to be growing evidence that the tattered relationship with China can be traced to his singular focus on punishing his political enemy, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA).
Just think about it. The dispute over those islands has existed for so many decades but it is only now, under the leadership of President BS Aquino that tensions between China and the Philippines have escalated into something that could potentially lead to a full-on war. This is something that would not likely have happened during former President Gloria Arroyo’s term or any of the previous Philippine Presidents’ terms.
In fact, during her term, GMA managed to sign a controversial oil exploration venture with China in one of her state visits there in 2004. Here’s an excerpt from a report on the historic agreement:
The two countries have agreed to conduct a three-year oil exploration research around the waters in the Spratlys and a separate agreement on fishery cooperation to prevent poaching incidents among Chinese and Filipino fishermen in the area.
The first MOU was on the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking between the state-owned Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC) signed by its new president Ed Mañalac with Fu Chiang You, president of the China National Offshore Oil Company.
Energy DOE Secretary Vicente Perez said the MOU will focus on pre-exploration research study on the Spratlys. This does not mean both countries will give up their respective territorial claims in the area, he said.
The idea for the venture seemed pretty rational. Instead of wrangling endlessly over the disputed islands, both parties must have agreed to explore the islands together and see if there really is something to fight about. As it turned out, the above venture did not proceed beyond the first phase because Filipino Congressmen put a stop to it on the grounds that it was unconstitutional to have entered into such a venture in the first place. The case is still pending with the Supreme Court since some lawmakers claimed that the agreement included islands that were already part of the Philippines. You can always expect Philippine politics to get in the way of progress anytime, anywhere.
That venture is not the only thing on hold between the Philippines and China. It has come to light that President BS Aquino has either rescinded or placed under review “nearly all of the Chinese contracts signed during GMA’s term”. This includes the $400 million Northrail Project-Phase I, Stage I (Caloocan-Malolos), which would have provided an efficient transport service for passengers and goods and solved part of Metro Manila’s traffic problem. It seems that China’s discontent grew over time due to these aborted deals. Let’s not forget that the animosity between this current administration all started with the bungled Mendoza hostage crisis in 2010 that resulted in the death of eight Chinese tourists – a situation made worse by BS Aquino’s obvious lack of empathy for the dead, which angered the Chinese community. Unfortunately for the Filipino people, BS Aquino’s uncompromising position on territorial disputes, which he clearly cannot prop up without the help of the Americans, is putting the country in a dangerous position. All this because BS Aquino hates GMA and wants to punish her.
It is a shame President BS Aquino could not even continue where GMA left off in terms of wooing China. Just imagine if we can successfully and peacefully negotiate a deal to share the benefits from the exploration conducted by the concerned parties. It could mean additional income and economic progress for our country. Why, we can even be like Brunei – sitting pretty and simply collecting royalties from the development of their resources. Let’s face it; we could not conduct an expedition on our own without the help of foreign investors anyway because we do not have the right technology and expertise to do it. This is evident in how our mining industry too remains mired in old feudal politics.
At the moment President BS Aquino oversees very little Philippine-China relationship to speak of. He did have an opportunity to acknowledge China’s help for providing a loan for a water system project. At the recent inauguration of the Angat Water Utilization and Aqueduct Improvement Project Phase II in Quezon City’s La Mesa Dam, he thanked China for extending the needed P5.2 billion funding for the project under the Preferential Buyer’s Credit of the China Export-Import Bank. It is worth mentioning that credit for this project should go to GMA because it was initiated and approved during her term under an economic partnership agreement with China.
This is actually an opportune time for President BS Aquino to get his act together and be bolder in making a move on the apparent trespassing of Chinese vessels in Philippine territorial waters. As China prepares for it’s once-in-a-decade transition to a new president, the political party’s elite leaders are also “busy” trying to bury the scandal involving one of their own “princelings”. Bo Xilai, a charismatic Communist Party chieftain was stripped of his party posts, and his wife arrested on suspicion of homicide for the alleged murder of an expatriate British businessman. China’s political elite can thank themselves for their power to easily suppress information like that from reaching the public. It makes it easier to keep growing numbers of internal dissenters happy and clueless about the news of a scandal involving politicians like Xilai. China’s disgruntled migrant labor force estimated at 300 million is said to be a potential source of instability if graft and corruption is not contained within the country’s ruling political party elite.
BS Aquino can’t even apply the brains required to take advantage of the political turmoil in China at the moment. The Philippine government can learn a thing or two from the Russians. Recent news reports stated how the “Russian coast guard seized two Chinese vessels and detained 36 fishermen Tuesday after they were allegedly found fishing in Russian-controlled waters in the Sea of Japan”.
Warning shots were fired at one vessel during a three-hour pursuit by Russian Coast Guard, which eventually rammed the vessel and soldiers fired directly on the ship when sailors resisted being boarded, according to Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency.
No one was killed or injured in the incident, according to RIA.
The ship had 22.5 metric tons of squid and a crew of 17 RIA reported, and didn’t have documents allowing them to fish in Russia’s Exclusive Economic Zone. A second Chinese fishing vessel, with 19 crew members, was also detained in nearby waters.
An Exclusive Economic Zone is an area within 200 nautical miles of a nation’s shores which gives the country sole rights to fish and develop resources in the area.
Why can’t the Philippine coast guard do the same with the Chinese fishermen who enter Philippine waters? They have every right to do it; they just need to have the guts. They must be getting their cues from their yellow Commander-in-Chief. For someone who is into guns and for someone who appeared to be trigger-happy at the start of the diplomatic row over the disputed islands, President BS Aquino doesn’t seem to be too keen to flex our puny muscles now.