Our China conundrum

Our hot-cold relationship with China is in the headlines again. The latest news about a humongous coast guard ship of China chasing and firing a water cannon directly on our puny supply boat en route to deliver supplies to our soldiers stationed on the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusting and dilapidated ship of an outpost in the Spratlys deliberately grounded in 1999 to assert our country’s sovereignty over the contested waters of the Ayungin Shoal, vividly shared and seen over and over again in the news and social media, has understandably aroused the visceral ire of Filipinos.

Judging from the video clips, if it weren’t for the adroit maneuvering of the boat captain, the supply vessel could have easily turned over on its side and capsized given the sheer mass and volume of water splashing on its broadside. Even an ordinary citizen usually too busy eking out a living to be concerned about geopolitics, if presented with the latest clear evidence of outright bullying by China, would most certainly be outraged.

Sure enough, the administration wasted no time in calling out for the nth time the thuggish actions of the China Coast Guard which undoubtedly was acting on the orders of their military establishment, acquiesced in by the political overlords of China. To make matters worse, our Department of Foreign Affairs publicly aired its frustration over being unable to successfully contact their Chinese counterparts through the supposed hotlines set up precisely to clear the air when incidents such as what happened occur. To add insult to injury, it is so inconceivably frustrating and insulting, for any caller for that matter, that despite numerous attempts to make contact, notwithstanding a prior understanding of the gravity of calls made through the hotlines, their calls went simply unanswered.

The clear message to our frustrated DFA officials manning the hotlines is that the hotlines arrangement was simply for show and that a call from the Philippines was deemed not important or serious enough to be attended to. We are literally just being taken for a ride on the bumpy waters of the West Philippine Sea (or South China Sea if you are so inclined to take the view of China) that we can’t possibly hope for a mutually acceptable code of conduct with China on how to amicably settle this lingering dispute.

Given the undoubted intransigence of China, the question that has bugged our current and previous administrations ever since the country’s stunning victory, initiated during Noynoy Aquino’s administration at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague which ruled that under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea China’s “nine-dash line” was illegal and not compatible with the Exclusive Economic Zones, clearly violating the Philippines’ EEZ rights by preventing our fishermen from fishing therein and massively reclaiming land in our EEZ, is what should we do?

The previous administration took the path of cozying up to Uncle Xi and veering away from the decades-long and generational embrace of Uncle Sam. There were initial promises of massive Chinese loans to fund our infrastructure requirements and hints that a bilateral solution to the dispute could be reached. But subsequent numerous uncalled-for extremely brusque maneuvers of Chinese coast guards over the past few years have told a different story unfortunately, leaving the current administration with no choice but to move back into the loving arms of Uncle Sam.

This in turn has led to the expansion of the EDCA under the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty allowing for four additional EDCA sites to counter the Chinese military buildup in the Spratlys, which could conceivably be military targets in the event of a hot war between China and the US.

This conundrum that we face, unfortunately for us, has no clear solution. We definitely have no military capability to assert our rights whatsoever notwithstanding any additional funds that may be budgeted for our military establishment. We will have to content ourselves and somehow try to save face by continuing our verbal indignation over any further indignities that we may suffer from the Chinese while we try to reap whatever economic benefits may come our way as we wait for China to make good on its pledges.

Definitely a conundrum for our country and a fine line between diplomacy and righteous indignation for BBM to walk on.

Until next week… OBF!


For comments, email bing_matoto@yahoo.com.

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