"Is this really what we want?"
This question is being asked as the West Philippine Sea dispute with China regurgitates all over the place yet again, following the non-debate between President Duterte and retired Justice Carpio. So consumed are the proponents of that debate (1Sambayan et al) that it was as if the outcome will bring about a sudden change in our fortunes in the midst of the pandemic.
It is as if getting the Chinese out of the rocks and other features we claim to be ours in that part of the vast ocean will usher in a new dawn of cheers and good fortune. So, for them it’s very much like WPS or BUST. But is that really what we want? Or better still is that the end-all and be-all of our relations with China? Of course not.
In the first place, even if for some magical reason the Chinese let go and let us occupy all of the seven features presently under Chinese control our stay will remain under a cloud. There are four other claimants who will continue to harangue us for “illegally occupying” the disputed features. Are we prepared to face the challenges engendered by that possibility? I don’t think so and we must avoid such an outcome at all costs.
Secondly, the continuing noises which have been engendered by this contrived dispute mostly from our side runs the risk of tainting our otherwise friendly and beneficial relations with the Chinese in a host of areas from trade, investments and currency exchanges, cultural and people-to-people relations, employment and social services, education and training and security and related concerns. Are we going to downgrade or even cut off our relations on these key areas to pursue with all the forces we can muster to quite simply make a big issue of “upholding our sovereignty” over an unenforceable claim?
Indeed, have we come to that point in our relations with China that we are prepared to pursue a zero-sum strategy to the exclusion of all other options?
Having made the WPS issue their principal “call-to-action initiative” to rouse public outcry over this administration’s governance of the country’s affairs, it behooves Carpio and company to come out clean and stake their proposed solution to this increasingly toxic impasse. What are they prepared to do aside from making all kinds of accusations about China’s motives and Duterte’s complicity or even duplicity? They have paid for a tribunal of their liking which merely came out with an unenforceable and, worse, not even clear-cut findings on the entitlements of claimants in the WPS. They have also been parading all over the place with all sorts of harangues and shaming operations against Duterte and others who disagreed with their position. They have also been inviting other countries outside of the other claimants and even ASEAN to demonize China and “stand up”to its “bullying.” They have also encouraged, even lauded the continued exercises and patrols undertaken by various navies in and around the disputed areas in a bid to shame and bring China to its knees.
What else is up their sleeves to finally resolve this matter to their satisfaction and get this issue on the table? If they have any more, this is the right time to come out with these so our people and the community of nations can make sense of such proposals. Otherwise, if they have run out of possible solutions short of getting our forces in harm’s way, they should now put this issue to rest and raise other issues of governance against this administration which may finally find some traction with the public at this time. I can assure them no matter how demonized the Chinese have been in their view, the public will not countenance a zero sum, WPS-or-bust solution. I can find somebody to debate with Carpio et al on that proposition.