How do you deal with a bully like China?

December 31, 2018

BULLYING cases have been in very much in the news lately. In the last two cases, at least, the incidents were dealt with promptly and to the satisfaction of the public.

The Ateneo Junior High student who kicked his schoolmate in the face was himself kicked out by school authorities after an investigation into the incident. The Taekwondo black belter was also sanctioned by the Taekwondo Association. Henceforth, he will not be allowed to compete in any officially approved competition unless he undergoes some form of rehab.

The Garin father and son tandem who recently beat up a lowly police officer in front of his own station commander are now facing criminal charges. In addition, the gun licenses of father and son have been ordered revoked by the Philippine National Police. No doubt, speedy PNP action was prompted by direct orders from the President himself.

So far so good.

The foregoing  bullying incidents can not help but remind us  of a  continuing bullying on a much bigger scale and what we are doing about it.

The bully in this case is China -- the new super power in the region. The victim is us -- the Philippines.

Ironically, the bullying is being tolerated by tough-talking President Duterte who  had earlier defied other powers like the US and the EU with his famous lines “Don’t f..k with me.”

Recall that in July 2016, the International Court of Arbitration ruled that the Philippines has exclusive sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea (in the South China Sea) and that China’s “nine-dash line” is invalid.

China simply defied the ruling. For its part, the Philippines adopted a stance which has been described, at best,  as “pragmatic” and “accommodative” and at worse, as “defeatist” and “self-flagellating”.

In her well-documented book “Rock Solid”, Marites Dañquilan Vitug  details instances of China’s defiance of the ruling of the International Court:

Chinese coast guard boats continue to ring Scarborough Shoal like “leaves of a cabbage”. Filipino fishermen are allowed off and on to fish within the shoal. But on their way out, the fishermen have to fork out some of their best catch as “goodwill” to the Chinese. Filipino media who venture near the shoal are invariably chased by the Chinese.

In the Spratlys, China deployed anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems on all of the seven artificial islands it had built.

Just off Pag-Asa (which is occupied by Philippine troops, China deployed four ships to chase off Filipino fishermen from the Sandy Car sand bar. The move was clearly  intended to prevent the Philippines from doing much needed repair work in Pag-Asa.

In 2017, China stepped up its construction  of runways, capable to accommodating fighter jets, transforming occupied features into virtual air and naval bases.

President Duterte must have studied Law  under the same professor who taught us Property in our sophomore year. The professor taught both at the Ateneo and San Beda.

The professor, may his soul rest in peace, told our class: “You don’t argue with your neighbor over property boundaries when your neighbor is holding a gun.”

Duterte apparently learned his lesson well. Still fresh in Duterte’s  mind, is the manner by which China massacred its own citizen in Tiananmen Square  in 1989 and how China dealt with the Vietnamese in the Paracels Islands in 1974.

Further, Duterte doubts if the US would come to our aid should push comes to  shove in the West Philippines. Certainly not when US statements on the implementation of the Mutual Defense Treaty remain ambiguous at best. And definitely not when President Trump himself announced that the US will stop playing policeman to the world.

There was a time when Scarborough shoal, part of the disputed territories, was used by US naval forces as a target range. China did not raise as much as a whimper. But that was a long time ago.

International law experts, not unmindful of the realities of the ground, claim that the Philippines is not left without options. These options, of course easier said than done, have to be pursued. In other words, we “use it or lose it”.

Some suggestions from the experts: (as quoted in Marites Danguilan Vitug’s book)

SC Justice Antonio Carpio: “The real and practical option for the Philippines is to talk with China while taking measures to fortify the arbitral ruling”.

International pressure could encourage the implementation of the award --but friendly countries have to  take the lead from the Philippines.

The Philippines must invest heavily in upgrading its coast guard.

Follow the Nicaragua model. In  a case filed against the United States, where the US did not participate, Nicaragua obtained a favorable decision from the International Court of Justice. Nicaragua then went to the UN Security Council to have the ICJ ruling enforced. As a member of the Security Council, the US exercised its veto power. Undeterred, Nicaragua went straight to the General Assembly which eventually  ordered the US to comply with the ICJ ruling.

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