In two world stage events occurring simultaneously last week, China presented two starkly different faces: a big power statesman in one, and a petty barnyard bully in the other.
The two faces were similar to the ones displayed by accused Pork Barrel Fixer Janet Lim-Napoles: in one acting like a regal socialite hobnobbing with Sen. Jinggoy Estrada and Sen. Bong Revilla, and in the other, behaving like a common thug when confronting subordinates like Benhur Luy who alleged that she kidnapped him last December 19, 2012 after learning of his intention to compete with her in the lucrative Pork Barrel scam business.
The only difference between Napoles and China is the magnitude of their stages.
For China, one world stage was the Summit of the Group of 20 (G20) top economic leaders of the world meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia on September 4-5 where China’s Pres. Xi Jinping presented his nation’s views on “ways to achieve a steady global recovery and a strong, sustainable and balanced growth”.
At this Summit, Xi supported the efforts by the Summit’s host, Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin, to dissuade the US from bombing Syria. Xi warned that US military intervention in Syria would damage the world economy and jack up oil prices.
Earlier, at his California Summit with Pres. Obama on June 7, 2013, Xi called on the US and China to “work together to build a new type of relations between major countries in an innovative and active way to serve the fundamental interests of the two peoples and to promote development and progress of human society.”
But a different China was on display on September 3-5 in the China city of Nanning in Guangxi province where China’s Premier Li Keqiang hosted the annual China-Asean Expo showcasing the economic cooperation between Beijing and the Association of South East Asian Nations. This year’s Nanning Expo was attended by the heads of state of Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Pres. Benigno S. Aquino III was also invited to attend because the Philippines was this year’s “country of honor”. Or was he invited?
President Aquino announced that he canceled his trip to China after rejecting the “unacceptable conditions” laid down by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi before he would be allowed to attend. China demanded that Aquino must first withdraw the Philippines’ legal complaint to the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal over its territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea.
China also demanded that Aquino order the removal of its sunken navy ship marine outpost, the Rajah Humabon, from the Ayungin Reef which is located within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Philippines
After Aquino announced that he had canceled his trip to China, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman’s office informed the Associated Press that there was no trip for Aquino to cancel because “China never extended an invitation to the Philippine president.”
China likely expected Aquino to reject its absurd demands and was counting on Aquino to cancel his trip.
Chuck Chiang reported in the Vancouver Sun on September 8 that “the Beijing-Manila dispute became a hot topic at the Expo.” Without the presence of Philippines, China had free rein to extract commitments from each of the attending heads of state that they will work with Beijing to “maintain peace and stability in the East Sea, control the situation at sea and resolve every matter via peaceful negotiations.”
Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul told China Daily that ASEAN officials “will not allow any particular issue to overshadow ASEAN-China relations, which are progressing well.”
“Any particular issue”? Like China’s assertion that it owns the entire 1.5 million nautical miles of the South China Sea? Like China’s insistence that the Asean countries have only a 12 mile territorial boundary not the 200 mile boundary set forth by the
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which China and the Asean countries are signatories to?
Malaysia’s Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told Bloomberg News in August: “Just because you have enemies, doesn’t mean your enemies are my enemies … I think we have enough level of trust that we will not be moved by day-to-day politics or emotions.”
What a difference for China the absence of the Philippines makes. At the July 1 ASEAN Ministerial meeting in Brunei, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario accused China of a “massive military buildup” in the disputed West Philippine Sea and warned ASEAN that Beijing’s tactics were a threat to peace in the region. Following this attack, China threatened a “counterstrike” against the Philippines for its “provocations” but nonetheless agreed to hold formal talks with Asean on a proposed code of conduct to ease tensions in the West Philippine Sea.
Without the presence of “troublemaker” Aquino at the Nanning Expo, China had no hurdles to forging its economic alliances with Asean member nations. As Chiang noted, “China is currently ASEAN’s largest trade partner, with total trade volume in the first half of this year totaling $210 billion US, up 12 per cent from the same period last year. That figure is only expected to increase with duties and tariffs being lifted in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar by 2015.”
While the strategy of excluding the Philippines from Asean clearly worked, it nevertheless exposed China as a petty nation, not ready for prime time as a major world power.
Perhaps China was naive to believe that simply dangling an invitation to attend a one day trade event in a minor Chinese city would be enough to extract major concessions from the Philippines. If so, this was insulting and reflected China’s condescending view of the Philippines. It also revealed its deep concern about the UN complaint filed by the Philippines.
China had expected the Philippines to base its UN complaint on China’s territorial claims beyond the 200 mile boundaries set by UNCLOS. As Philippine Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio observed, the Philippines would have lost that complaint because, as commentator Winnie Monsod explained, “that kind of dispute is excluded from the UNCLOS compulsory dispute settlement system, and China could cite that as a reason to refuse arbitration. My impression was that China was pretty sure that would be our strategy, and was pretty cocky about the outcome.”
Monsod adds: “But as it turns out — and here is where Carpio must have come in — the Philippines isn’t mentioning a word about maritime boundary delimitations. Instead, it brings the fight all the way into the Chinese camp. It asks the UN arbitral tribunal to rule on whether China’s so-called 9-dashed line claim (under which practically all of the South China Sea is considered its inland waters) or its domestic laws can take away the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, and extended continental shelf in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).”
“The Philippines is also asking the arbitral tribunal to rule whether China can occupy and erect structures on fully submerged reefs and on low-tide elevations; whether China, again under its 9-dashed line claim or domestic laws, can unilaterally appropriate for itself maritime space in the South China Sea beyond the exclusive economic zone of any coastal state (i.e., the high seas, which under UNCLOS no state can subject to its sovereignty).”
China does not have to worry that it will suffer the same fate as Janet Lim-Napoles. Or should it?
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