By Hermenegildo C. Cruz
12:14 am | Friday, June 14th, 2013 3 212 1
Three things happened recently in connection with the territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea. Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing expressed her “concern” that the Philippines may be putting up new structures on Ayungin Shoal (Inquirer, 5/30/13). That is equivalent to the schoolyard bully telling you he is afraid you may beat him up. Earlier, President Aquino announced that we would “resist bullies entering our backyard” (Inquirer, 5/22/13). This statement by the President was followed a few days later by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin’s own, that “…we will fight for what is ours up to the last soldier standing” (Inquirer, 5/24/13).
The statements of the President and the defense secretary called a spade a spade. There is a possibility that we may have to shed blood to defend our territory. China has a record of using force in settling border disputes with its neighbors, to wit: Korea versus the forces of the United Nations in 1950; India over the Ladakh area in 1950; the USSR at the Ussuri River in 1969; Vietnam in the Paracels Islands in 1974, the “Punishment Border War in 1979,” and Johnson Reef in 1988; and Tibet in 1950.
The key features of these border intrusions by China are the following:
• The communist ideology does not count in China’s conduct of its foreign relations. In Marxist ideology, the state is supposed to wither away. However, the Beijing apparatchiks cannot wait for the Marxist utopia when national boundaries will become meaningless, to be replaced by a world proletarian brotherhood. Thus, two “fraternal socialist countries,” the USSR and Vietnam, had been victims of Chinese border incursions.
• All the border conflicts are limited wars except in the case of Tibet. The Chinese stopped their intrusions upon meeting resistance that could result in unacceptable losses. In the Ladakh area of India, the Chinese seized disputed territory and then stopped their incursions when they reached areas where there are fixed Indian defenses. In the Korean War, the Chinese stopped their offensive across the 38th Parallel in the face of the overwhelming firepower of the UN forces.
• In the dispute with the USSR, the Chinese stopped their foray when the Soviet Union threatened to use nuclear weapons.
• In the case of Tibet, it became a total war of annihilation. The Tibetans did not have a credible military capability, so the Chinese took over the entire country.
• The border disputes are in the continental land mass of Eurasia. The Chinese incursion into the West Philippine Sea is the first time it has tried to project its power overseas. The Paracels are an offshore territory.
From the foregoing examples, the lesson is clear: We must have a credible armed deterrent. Otherwise, any Chinese incursion into our territory can spread beyond the West Philippine Sea and, like the Tibetans, we may face unacceptable losses to our nation.
The initiative of our Department of Foreign Affairs to bring the dispute to the United Nations is a diversion.
A UN resolution awarding us the disputed islands will not settle the issue. China will simply ignore it. The UN does not have the means to enforce its decisions. Our hope that if we get such a decision, we will gain the support of the international community, is also wishful thinking. There is no such thing as world public opinion.
China is a big power with friends everywhere. A UN resolution in our favor will simply divide the world: Some countries will support us, some will support China, and most of the world will not care. Even within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, we failed to gain unanimous support for our initiatives on the dispute in the West Philippine Sea. Cambodia and Burma (Myanmar) did not align with us. So the bottom line is: We should strengthen our armed forces to resist aggression, and forget the UN.
In conducting foreign relations, a country should always prepare for the worst-case scenario. The worst thing we can do is to hope that China will make an exception in its dispute with us and use an approach different from what it has employed vis-à-vis its continental neighbors.
* Hermenegildo C. Cruz, a retired ambassador, has written other commentaries on the dispute in the West Philippine Sea. He holds a master of arts degree in law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School for Law and Diplomacy.