“Political analysts were appalled.”
The political and military advisers of the President made him appear ridiculous when he issued a statement that the country will remain neutral amid the escalating conflict between People’s Republic of China (or China for brevity) and Taiwan. Political analysts were appalled at that sudden pronouncement. Many were surprised because there is really no room for the Philippines to stay neutral in the heightened tension between the two.
First, the country has no diplomatic relations with Taiwan to make ourselves neutral. Second, there is no conflict yet that exists with either China and Taiwan for us to prematurely declare ourselves neutral.
Third, our hasty declaration only exposed how we failed to measure the gravity of our decision. Fourth, a position of neutrality unnecessarily vexed our friendship with China which today stands as our most prosperous and generous economic benefactor. Fifth, our declaration of neutrality impliedly exposed our motive to commit ourselves to the “One-China” policy as pre-condition to our opening of diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.
For that, the international community is thinking there is something wrong in our policy direction. Why do we suddenly declare ourselves neutral in the conflict between the two warring factions, particularly against Taiwan with which we have no diplomatic relations? Besides, there is no valid and plausible reason why we have to take such a position. The international community will look at our leadership as silly that we cannot make up our mind.
Even if we cite the economic benefits, that decision by President Marcos was made during his visit in June 1976 and there was a precondition that we have to cut ties with Taiwan. In fact, China remained diplomatic when it allowed Taiwan to maintain their economic representatives in Manila despite our blatant violation of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic protocol. The government cannot be faulted much that it was a political decision to recognize the People’s Republic of China which is nearly accepted by all countries except to a handful of countries allied with the US.
Besides, President Duterte should be grateful to China for refraining from extending material and moral support to the local insurgency movement, not to mention the enormous developmental, economic and medical assistance provided us during this period of the pandemic. Section 5 for instance of the Agreement to open diplomacy relations with China provides that Filipino-Chinese shall be granted Filipino citizenship and Filipino-Chinese shall renounce the practice of dual citizenship thus enhancing patriotism among Filipino-Chinese and contributing to increase the revenues of the government.
The off-the-cuff news that the 2016 arbitral ruling rendered by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration that Beijing’s demarcation of the nine-dash line is illegal is out of context in relation to the President’s pronouncement to take a neutral stand in the brewing conflict between China and Taiwan. No matter what happens, our dispute with China over some of the islands in the South China Sea can never be resolved by the outcome of the China-Taiwan dispute. Both countries claim the same area as their territory, and our declaration of neutrality makes us stupid before the eyes of the international community. Rather, we only complicated the issue because of our belligerency in pretending to be neutral but covertly favoring the US position for Taiwan. Others suggest that the country directly negotiate with China just as what Vietnam did to negotiate its dispute in the Paracel islands.
Our pronouncement of neutrality effectively means we are reneging our promise to honor the “One-China” Policy. According Lucio Pitlo of the Asia Way of Progress Foundation, the pronouncement of the President is “confined to the narrow circle of national security; that the use of Philippine military bases under the VFA and EDCA agreement could put the Philippines “in Beijing’s line of fire. This is especially true of US ships or warplanes (that) sail or take off from Philippine military basis.”
Pitlo’s assessment is rather anchored on the presumption that our alliance with the US is extendable to include and assist Taiwan in its conflict with China. Pitlo forgot that there is no such thing as collateral alliance in our dealings with the US or with any country more so with Taiwan where we have no diplomatic relations. Our military alliance with the US cannot be stretched to compel us to participate in a war we never conceived or anticipated to be a part of our policy like correlating our 70-year alliance with the US to pretend neutrality when in fact, we are not.
Now that Taiwan and the US need an ally, their local dingoes are bowling to come to its defense which according to them, an attack by China on Taiwan could result in loss of jobs to thousands of Filipinos working there. Rather, they are not bothered that in the event of conflict, it is not just the loss of jobs and business opportunity but most importantly the economic and developmental assistance which China can
provide because of its rapid economic development.
Director Jay Batongbacal of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea at the University of the Philippines is equally delirious in urging the country to come to the defense of Taiwan without analyzing that Taiwan does not enjoy the status of a state. As far as China and its allies are concerned, Taiwan is a part of China’s territory. This means our military ties with the US cannot be extended to that runaway province of China.
The case of Taiwan is complicated because Taiwan stands as a surrogate state of the US. It cannot even qualify as a member, say of the North Atlantic Alliance, because it lacks the status of a state. It is even hard to imagine the US gambling for the defense of its entire population in defense of a nonstate. People like Batongbacal should have learned how the US have lopsidedly used their military bases in this country since 1946. He knows the Philippines cannot invoke the retaliatory clause provided under the Military Bases Agreement similar to NATO to allow us to collaterally extend our defense to Taiwan. For us to exercise such questionable assistance to non-states is outside the scope of our agreement that could make the country lower in category than that of Taiwan. There is no way we can apply our treaty with
the US which has all the substance of a military alliance.
For the US to insist in calling a military agreement an executive agreement is undoubtedly intended to circumvent congressional approval in case of conflict in the Philippines except if it is their desire to go to war as what it did in Vietnam, Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Notably, our declaration of neutrality already constitutes an implied violation of the “One-China Policy.”