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Friday, March 1, 2024

The laser incident

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“As former national security adviser Clarita Carlos said, our responses to what China has been doing in the WPS have always been meek and mild and needs to change.”

The most recent Ayungin Shoal incident involving the use of lasers by the Chinese Coast Guard on our Coast Guard patrol ship is simply telling us we need a new approach to such incidents.

Question is what it will be.

Ever since we have been having these standoffs with China, we have always been at a disadvantage due to the immense military power of China.

Perhaps, this is because we lack the resolve or due in part to what has continuously been drilled in our minds that we cannot win against China.

As former national security adviser Clarita Carlos said, our responses to what China has been doing in the WPS have always been meek and mild and needs to change.

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Former President Duterte, the architect of the pivot to China policy, visited Beijing many times to show his good will and pay homage as some of his critics have been saying.

Unfortunately, Beijing never reciprocated in any meaningful way.

But with a new administration, it appears that change is in the air.

There is a growing consensus among our leaders that we should not allow this kind of humiliation all the time.

But if we analyze the options available to us, the situation is really not that simple to navigate.

One option is the possible joint patrols with the United States.

This has been mentioned by our defense officials and appears to be the one under serious consideration.

This, however, is fraught with unpredictable consequences.

Others include pursuing broader defense agreements with Australia, Japan and the US in what could be a quadrilateral defense arrangement.

Another is accepting the explanation of the Chinese envoy that the Chinese Coast Guard ships do not carry military grade lasers.

That what was used in the Ayungin Shoal incident was simply a harmless civilian laser with the intention of simply guiding the PCG ship to proceed to a particular direction.

But if we choose this option, it would be business as usual.

Besides, based on the video and what the crew said, the glare was much stronger because the beam was directed to their eyes which caused temporary blindness.

Considering what former President Duterte did in moving the country closer to China, it is inexplicable why China maintained its strong arm responses to such incidents instead of a soft hand approach.

Take the issue of fishing, it would have generated so much good will from us if the Chinese simply allowed our fishermen to fish in their traditional fishing grounds free from any harassment.

But no, China has to show it has control over its territorial claims even if this is not supported by international law.

After the recent trip of PBBM to Beijing, he came home announcing that disagreements with China in the WPS will henceforth be resolved in a friendly and peaceful manner. But, after only several days, we had the laser incident, prompting PBBM to take the very unusual step of summoning the Chinese Ambassador to tell him that the use of lasers was not the agreed way of settling any misunderstanding in the WPS.

Then the Chinese envoy was quoted as saying there is a third country causing the friction between the Philippines and China, referring of course to the US because he could not have been referring to any other country.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman also bluntly said in his briefing after the laser incident that The Hague Arbitral decision in 2016 was just a political drama orchestrated by the US and that this will not lessen Chinese resolve in the WPS.

Both gentlemen seem to assume that we are incapable of independent action like filing that arbitral case in The Hague on our own.

They also seem to imply that our senior officials do not know what they are doing to protect the interest of our country without consulting the Americans.

It shows how low these Chinese officials look upon us and are insulting to say the least.

Let us hope, therefore, the WPS issue will be resolved peacefully and will not develop into a more serious problem.

Since we and China want a peaceful resolution of the WPS issue, an enforceable agreement with China thru negotiations is a good step forward and worth exploring if still possible.

Responding forcefully may not be the best way forward because we have to vastly increase our naval resources both in numbers, training and equipment.

We obviously cannot do that with our Coast Guard just having three available ships. If we take Japan’s example, that country recently announced a $340B defense upgrade for the next 10 years which is a staggering amount.

We cannot even raise two per cent of that sum.

But that is the kind of money needed to build a credible defense to confront a behemoth like China.

And it will take years in order for us to achieve anything resembling a credible defense force.

This should, therefore, be food for thought to our leaders who are trying to figure out what to do with future Chinese provocations.

It is a sobering thought because at the moment, we virtually have nothing.

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