China may grow larger

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Friday, May 16, 2014

FOR months, verbal clashes between the Philippine government and the Chinese government over groups of rocks in the South China Sea have been making headlines nationwide. What hasn’t been going around is what the other side thinks about the conflict.

The Filipinos tend to see the South China Sea standoff as one that is laughably disproportionate. Everyone knows that China has more soldiers than grains of rice in a rice bowl, and that the Philippines has an army with technology that goes back to the Vietnam War, so a (largely hypothetical) war with China would be considerably one-sided. The average Filipino acknowledges this, and believes that the Philippines has the potential to become a major threat to the Chinese, but so far is about as much of a threat to the Red Giant as a gnat on the back of a horse.

China, on the other hand, views the Philippines as an irrelevant annoyance – a country that would not be puffing its chest without the backing of the United States. It is committed to addressing the issue of disputed waters through a bilateral agreement, while the Philippines insists that this case should be taken to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). China does not understand why.


According to the Chinese, the Philippines has violated the consensus enshrined in the Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and notes that the DOC states that disputes should be solved through talks between the nations directly involved. However, the DOC actually states:

The Parties concerned undertake to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Which, in my opinion, means we have every right to bring our case up to this specific higher court. The Chinese won’t have it though, since according to them, bilateral talks would be more beneficial – since they were already willing to listen to an offer made by Manuel Pangilinan, the chairman of Philex Mining, who proposed to build a joint natural gas deposit within the disputed South China Sea. The suggestion was well received by China. The Chinese Foreign Minister, Hong Lei, has been quoted as saying, “Beijing is willing to talk with Manila about the joint development, and the key is that the Philippine side should be sincere…”
Unfortunately for Beijing, Malacañang insists that the scattered rocks and islands in the disputed waters belong to the Philippines alone. But that hardly seems to matter to China. Earlier this month, a Chinese oil rig was repositioned to sit 120 nautical miles off the coast of Vietnam, clearly within Vietnam’s sea territory, according to ITLOS. The Vietnamese, whose military briefly fought the Chinese PLA on the Spratly Islands some 30 years ago, responded by burning Chinese factories in Vietnam (along with Taiwanese factories, since they couldn’t tell the difference).

Meanwhile, in Philippine disputed waters, the Chinese have begun to reclaim land in the Spratly Islands to make room for what appears to be an airstrip. When Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto del Rosario complained about the construction project, his Chinese counterpart replied “Whatever construction China carries out on the reef is a matter entirely within the scope of China's sovereignty. I don't know what particular intentions the Philippines has in caring so much about this.”

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on May 16, 2014.


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