"If we are to be wary of something, our fears must have some basis."
They just wouldn’t die down. That China is flexing its muscle to restrict navigation and overflight in the South China Sea to the point of fomenting tension in the area which these rumormongers say could eventually lead to war. (I refuse to refer to it as West Philippine Sea as I don’t think the international community has recognized that yet).
I don’t believe China, which is now enjoying its brightest moment as second most powerful country in terms of economy would even risk that. It has come a long way from a GDP per capita of less than US $200 in 1978 to nearly US$10,000 last year. In colloquial words, “Bakit pa nila guguluhin ang tabakuhan?”
And as China’s People’s Liberation Army celebrates the 92nd founding anniversary of its extraordinary journey commencing almost a century ago, it’s more than refreshing to hear from China’s Ambassador to the Philippines, His Excellency Zhao Jianhua, assuring words to this effect.
Ambassador Zhao insists China is a peace-loving nation and will always follow the path of peaceful development.
“This is a commitment to the people of China and to the world, and this has been written into the Constitution of China. It is also our firm conviction to continue the path of peaceful development. No matter how strong China may become, China will never seek hegemony or never establish spheres of influence. China will remain committed to serving as a force for peace, for stability and for prosperity in the world,” the Chineses ambassador says.
His words are backed by facts. Ambassador Zhao cites records that show China as the largest troop contributor among the permanent members of the UN Security Council. So far China has participated in 24 UN peacekeeping missions and dispatched more than 39,000 peacekeepers. 18 Chinese men and women in uniform laid down their lives on the UN peacekeeping missions. China has established a peacekeeping standby force of 8,000 troops that is ready to be deployed.
The ambassador adds that the PLA Navy began escort missions in the Gulf of Aden and the waters off Somalia in December 2008. It has sent 32 batches of fleets, including more than 100 navy vessels and about 70 helicopters. And up to now, it has escorted more than 6,600 vessels and rescued over 70 ships in danger of which, more than half of the escorted ships are foreign ships, including Filipino vessels and seamen.
The ambassador noted that the Philippine-China relationship, which has been characterized by thousands of years of prosperous people-to-people exchanges and contacts between China and the Filipino people, was further enhanced when President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in 2016. And under the strategic guidance of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Duterte, China-Philippines relations have achieved positive turnaround, have consolidated the relationship and we have elevated our relationship into a relationship of strategic cooperation.
And while China is insisting on the ownership of the disputed areas in the South China Sea, Ambassador Zhao, contrary to the rumors critics are saying, avers that China, as it has been in the past four to five decades, will remain firm with adhering to the policy of peaceful settlement.
“This policy will remain and will continue. Despite the differences we have, we are ready to discuss with claimant states over the differences we have. We always believe dialogue is much better than confrontation,” Zhao says.
He, however, stresses solution is not yet forthcoming as the issue cannot be settled overnight.
“We should be patient. We should have confidence in our wisdom that sooner or later we can settle it peacefully. But pending the peaceful settlement in the future, we will need to put our differences in proper context. We cannot let the one percent differences to hijack the whole 99 percent of friendship and cooperation as hostage. This is what I call the realistic and pragmatic approach,” he adds.
And as China has continuously refused to recognize the decision of the arbitral committee (Remember China never submitted itself to arbitration rendering the proceedings useless right from the beginning), Zhao says China will continue to work with the Philippines and other states directly concerned to resolve the relevant disputes in the South China Sea through bilateral negotiation and consultation on the basis of respecting historical fact and in accordance with international law which also includes UNCLOS.
In fact, Zhao underscores the fact that China had already agreed with the Filipino side for all China and ASEAN countries to faithfully implement theDeclaration of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea and is now working very hard together with other ASEAN countries to formulate the Code of Conduct which Zhao says they are optimistic, will be finalized in three years at the latest.
Freedom of navigation and overflight? As I’ve said before, “Bakit pa nila guguluhin ang tabakuhan?”
Zhao hit the nail on the head when he said that among all the countries, China consented most because nearly 75 percent of goods exported from or imported to China is going through the South China Sea. Nearly 80 percent of oil and gas that China imports from other places in the world is going through South China Sea.
“It goes without saying if South China Sea’s freedom of navigation is disrupted or even blocked by someone. We don’t need too much imagination to conclude that China is going to be somewhat badly hit because oil and gas now are the life block for economic and social growth. So China is the last country who would like to see that freedom of navigation in the South China Sea is impeded or disrupted,” according to Zhao.
So, what is it that the rumormongers are spreading?
I am not saying we should be giving our full trust to China or to whatever country including the US and Iceland, for that matter. We should always leave something for ourselves in case something not to our liking or benefit happens. But if we have to be wary of something, it should stand on solid ground, not on some hypothetical or fictitious assumptions and baseless allegations from these rumormongers.