Rodrigo Duterte ignored USA pushing Philippines to conflict with China. [Editorial]
China is the Philippines’ closest neighbour, about 200 nm distant.
China’s Spratlys Islands a.k.a. Kalayaan Island Group is just barely inside the 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Philippines, but owned by China.
It’s not unusual. A good example is Canada with an archipelago of France well inside its EEZ, 25 kilometres (16 mi) from the Burin Peninsula of Newfoundland, owned by France.
Click to enlarge. Photo Credit: Doc Searls
Saint Pierre and Miquelon is a French archipelago south of the Canadian island of Newfoundland. (a.k.a.: Collectivité d’outre-mer de Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon)
French warships and other France-flagged sea traffic have the right of way to this archipelago.
It is inside the Canadian EEZ but it is part of France. Its currency is the Euro. Its language is nearly-Parisienne French.
The two countries have little to no issues whatsoever since the “Vive le Québec libre” controversial phrase was used to assault the Canadian PM in a speech delivered by President Charles de Gaulle of France on 24 July 1967. President de Gaulle had a bee in his bonnet over Canada not quickly recognizing France’s government (de Gaulle) immediately after WWII.
Then Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson responded with: “The people of Canada are free. Every province in Canada is free. Canadians do not need to be liberated. Indeed, many thousands of Canadians gave their lives in two world wars in the liberation of France and other European countries.” Ouch.
It got worse when Canadian minister of justice Pierre Elliot Trudeau taunted de Gaulle suggesting if a Canadian Prime Minister shouted, “Brittany to the Bretons” de Gaulle might have a different look on his face.
de Gaulle scurried back to France saying, “Nous n’avons aucune concession, ni même aucune amabilité, à faire à M. Trudeau, qui est l’adversaire de la chose française au Canada.”
(“We have not one concession, nor even any courtesy, to extend to Mr. Trudeau, who is the enemy of the ‘French fact’ in Canada.” Ouch.)
The simmering animosity must have been smoothed over by the time of the current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Pierre’s remarkable son) who is shown below with the current President of France, Emmanuel Macron and Mme. Macron.
Since the first publication of the photo below, three Newfoundland fishermen on the south shores of Newfoundland have turned their vintage (1753) cannons away from France, 25 KM south, and because Newfoundland is clever and never takes on islands that aren’t smaller than itself, shifted its geriatric ornamental canons to point out to sea toward China’s fake islands in the Spratlys, about 9,000 km distant. Hence Newfoundland might be an amiable and empathetic ally to the Philippines.
The point is that having a foreign nation owning archipelago islands inside ones EEZ is comfortably workable, most of the time. And that many people are feeling the Philippines grief. Yes. The apparently world gets it. But nobody bothers to learn the details.
It is in America’s interest and not in the Philippines’ interest for PH to be a surrogate of America against China. Duterte dodged a big bullet. Previous Presidents have not been so wise.
Philippines’ President Duterte is one wise cookie who has served the Philippines well in realizing that good relations with China are crucial despite America’s stirring up demonstrations in Manila and general antipathy wherever it can plant the seeds.
Get along with your neighbours because you can’t move a country to another hood.
The experience of Mexicans and Central Americans is instructive. It can’t be much fun all the time being America’s neighbour either. Many of hispanic citizens had their kids confiscated for trying to go to San Diego and buy a jar of good peanut butter for Mom.
Actually, this sarcasm on America is not funny. It is criticism of a country that has abominably mishandled migrants. America’s abuse is unforgivable and inhuman. America has first vacated then violated every global statute that offers protection for the rights of a child. Children’s rights are violated daily in the USA, some even die in the border concentration camps. It has been suggested that the USA has commit war crimes in Yemen including the bombing of schools and school buses.
China has been a tough neighbour to deal with and it has been accused of human rights issues involving horrific mistreatment of Muslim persons and also the persecution of other religious groups like the Falun Dafa community, a religion similar to Buddhism. How can any leader trust such a nation?
These human rights crimes of China must cease before any country can restore its fullest trust in Beijing and express deserved respect for the remarkable achievements of the Chinese people.
What if the Neighbour is a bully?
Getting along with a larger bully neighbour like America and China is onerous at times, but better than not getting along. Rodrigo Duterte was either wise or fortuitous for whatever reason he chose to build a positive relationship between the Philippines and China thus ignoring America’s jingoistic overtures.
There’s an old mantra, “If you cannot get along with your neighbour you likely can’t get along with anyone.”
No neighbours are perfect. If the neighbours party noisily on Friday night, move your heaviest sleepers to the near bedroom and close the other windows. Then you politely accept the neighbours peace offering of yummy barbecue the next day. The point is that the basis of all human relationships is balancing the good with tolerance, communicatively reached workarounds, and understanding of the annoyances. And then enjoy each other’s company, culture, friendship while teaming up for a better environment, cooperation and future development.
History created a complicated scenario in the South China Sea.
The 1887 Chinese-Vietnamese Boundary convention signed between France and China after the Sino-French War of 1884-1885 ceded ownerships to China. It recognised China as the owner of both the Spratly and Paracel islands. That’s basically a land title.
In 1946, the Americans reminded the Philippines at its independence ceremony that the Spratlys was not Philippine territory, both to not anger Chiang Kai-shek in China and because the Spratlys were not part of the Philippines per the 1898 treaty Spain signed with America when it first became the owner of the Philippines as the spoils of war. (Cite: War or Peace in the South China Sea – Timo Kivimäki)
This is because in 1946, America believed China owned the Spratlys regardless of their being in Philippines waters. This is not unusual and there are many examples.
Like the titles for Philippines homes, the most recent valid title date decides who owns the property. That process is trumped by war. Citing Territorial Disputes and Interstate War, 1945-1987 The University of Chicago Press.
The July 2016 arbitration gave nothing in the way of ownership to the Philippines. The general hearsay is a pack of misinformation. China owns the Spratlys. There was no real win in 2016.
Watch this explanation by Vox of the South China Sea conundrum.
Of course China has no rights to build artificial islands in the waters of the Philippines EEZ despite its claim that its ownership of the Spratlys enables a new EEZ around its islands. But there is a unique factor which China invokes.
As islands go, these are not much more than rocks protruding above the surface which does somewhat create an argument about which the best minds of Beijing have pondered.
- If one stands on a three-meter rock island and pours sand around the edges, is one creating an artificial island or making improvements to their existing island?
- If one stands on a three-meter rock island that is surrounded by many other three-meter rock islands and fills in the spaces in between with sand, is one creating an artificial island or making improvements to their existing island?
But that is not truthful. China has militarized the Spratlys, insidiously expanding in its ability to control traffic in the region.
If this is about the enormous oil riches below the sea, Beijing and its greed is on the wrong page. The world needs to abandon fossil-fuel burning. The imperative is so great that secret projects to give the oil industry the boot are yielding good potential for renewable energy sources that have been pushed back for decades by similarly autocratic greed. Whatever cost in lost good will and expensive missiles and fake islands will be wasted because a barrel of oil by 2050 will be valued negatively. The future of energy markets is not about fossil fuels.
Maybe it’s not about oil. Get-rich quick oil-based schemes are a waste of effort and show lack of gray matter plus demonstrate little care for the 1.4 billion people of China who already breathe yellow, toxic air.
Recipe for Friendship is to fix Grievances
- China must not build islands in the Philippines EEZ .
- China should compensate Philippines fishermen reasonably for lost revenues and any other damages.
- China must not hinder and in fact for its area of operation guarantee protection of all legitimate Philippines-flagged sea traffic in the Philippines EEZ.
- China and the Philippines should make stronger efforts to overcome the inertia of building agreed infrastructure projects including railroads in the Philippines.
- China has abundant know-how and the Philippines has the desperate need for infrastructure building. All-out friendship and cooperation are huge possibilities with mutual prosperity benefits.
Regardless of all the coaching the Philippines gets from America and others on the arbitration of 2016, it is still a highly contestable decision. It has no value to the Philippines. None whatsoever. Vietnam has an arguable claim to the Spratlys also. That is very awkward for the Philippines.
Manila had every opportunity since 1946 when the Americans warned that the Spratlys were not part of the Philippines to make an arrangement with China when it had no interest in the Spratlys. It did nothing.
Taiwan, a self-governed territory of China has made its own independent claim. Given that Taiwan is part of China, China’s ownership claim is undeniable in a douyble barreled claim. No matter how coveted these islands may be they are China’s islands in Philippines waters.
Notwithstanding, China’s rights in Philippines’ waters are only the right of way and access.
China won the Spratlys and the Paracels in a war. If somebody wants that territory, clearly, Duterte is 100% correct, the only way to achieve that is to win it in a war against China, and Duterte has repeatedly said, “I am not going to war with China”. In the alternative, make an offer China cannot refuse. That also is not likely to happen.
Arguably China made a big mistake in diplomacy and in not explaining better its own position by ignoring the tribunals on this matter. It had a case wherein it could have elaborated on its Nine Dash Line which does indeed have a more sophisticated variant. As it stands, that “line” has been ruled invalid as of July 2016. That of itself is irrelevant because the Nine Dash Line is merely a concept drawing. The problem is the militarization of the South China Sea.
On July 12, 2016, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) released a verdict on a Philippines’ arbitration request filed in respect of China and its actions in 2013, an action taken at the urging of other nations. The arbitral ruling discredited a nine-dash line being used by China for the claims of nearly the entire West Philippines Sea or South China Sea including part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
It did not decide ownership of islands.
The Philippines have all fishing rights and offshore resource rights in its EEZ. The PCA implied China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its EEZ by interfering with Philippine fishing and petroleum exploration, constructing artificial islands and failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the zone.
Without having prior approval from the Philippines, China’s constructing artificial islands in the Philippines EEZ is reprehensible.
Preventing Philippines fishermen from fishing in its own EEZ is illegal and actionable in a civil context. China owes the Philippines fishermen.
Duterte seems to have created a mechanism by which the fishing dispute can be resolved. Future talks have been promised.
Despite the rhetoric of various politicians and pundits who mostly seem to be driven by American propagandists who are in the Philippines to urge confrontation between PH and China, the nation of the Philippines as it is today, may be bound by the definition of territories as handed to the Philippines in 1946 by the United States of America.
No matter if you support, like or dislike him politically, the Philippines President since 2016 has realistically set foreign relations policy for China and conducted excellent dialogues.