>Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) – The question facing the Philippines is what concessions it will give China in exchange for Beijing’s decision to postpone the execution of three Filipinos convicted of drug trafficking.
The answer: We will pay a stiff price but through skillful diplomacy and tested wisdom, we can navigate a solution favourable to our national interest.
China’s carefully worded decision centres on the phrase “postpone the execution within the scope of Chinese law”. A masterpiece of nuance crafting, it is an open-ended declaration that the fate of the three drug traffickers hangs on whether the Philippines can deliver on Beijing’s expectations.
Philippine-China relations are generally improving but some contentious issues remain. The Spratlys dispute is one of them.
The Philippines may have to moderate its claim to the island group by making less arrests, or none at all, of Chinese fishing boats on the territorial waters. The previous exercises of enforcing our maritime laws in the area will have to yield to a larger use of pragmatism on the ground, or on the waters, as the case may be.
Can we afford the cost of appeasing what may be perceived as Chinese inroads into our national pride and sovereignty?
It bears noting that China’s territorial claims are non-negotiable and irreversible given its geographical conflicts with Viet Nam, the Soviet Union, Japan and most prominently, Taiwan.
Way out of Spratlys
Still, we can discover a way out of the Spratlys impasse by concentrating on the oil deposits of the territory where China has a more flexible position that hardly poses a threat to Philippine sovereignty.
Beijing has made known that it welcomes the joint exploration by claimant countries of the fossil fuel resources in the contested territories.
Quietly dropping our Spratlys claim, as we did with the Sabah claim, in favour of sharing the wealth that lies beneath the ocean with China opens a window of accessible opportunity and leeway.
Instead of expending weapons of war on a fruitless historical quest, our involvement in discovering a vital resource can bear lasting rewards. It can well be our contribution to making the South China Sea a zone of peace, security and development.
On a larger scale, China sees its reprieve to the doomed Filipinos as another window for leveraging the issue of US military dominance in the East Asia Pacific region.
As home to the visiting forces of the American military, the Philippines is collaterally seen as an ally of a superpower out to contain China’s military rise in the region.
Binay reshapes ties
In a word, Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay’s Beijing trip last week has reshaped the contours of Philippine-China relations.
Any Philippine move to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement, a pact so one-sidedly favouring the US interest, may well be the plum in the reprieve trade-off. China hopes it can neutralise the American security presence by offering military hardware to our armed forces at a premium discount.
How the United States deals with its former colony’s turn to the East bears watching for the rich geopolitical lode it mines. It won’t be farfetched to see a joint Philippine-China military exercise in the near future in aid of the growing partnership between two armies that were once enemies on the battlefield.
Against these unfolding events, aren’t we courting the danger of jumping from the security of one superpower to that of another? Can there be real parity between a rising powerful country and an undeveloped Third World country?
The guarded answer: Yes, it is possible. China, for all its rapid climb to power and influence, has always had a soft spot for the Philippines.
Our strategic location and cultural affinities make us natural partners this side of the Pacific. We can learn to live in China’s shadow but never be its ward, much less its hostage, so long as we play our cards well. The way they do.