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Almonte: Best policy to solve sea dispute is ‘people to people’ strategy

/ 05:09 AM June 08, 2014

Former National Security Adviser Jose Almonte (inset) talks about the best solution to the Philippine territorial disputes with China. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—For former National Security Adviser Jose Almonte, a retired Army general, the best strategy for handling the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea is the “people-to-people approach.”

After all, he said, citizen initiatives are “more authentic” and “more enduring,” unlike those of politicians who are “constrained” by personal interests.

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Also considered the father of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM), Almonte, however, did not name any politician in his meeting with several Ateneo de Manila University graduates—called the Ateneo 198—in Greenhills in San Juan City on Thursday.

“This nation is still too important to be left to the politicians,” Almonte said, two days before Vice President Jejomar Binay, who is running for the presidency in 2016, was reported to be conducting “back-channel” efforts with top Chinese Embassy officials to lay the groundwork for patching the frayed relations between the Philippines and China.

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Under the people-to-people strategy, Almonte proposed that the Philippines’ “intellectuals” “connect” with the many intellectuals in China who oppose the Chinese leadership’s policies in the South China Sea.

Exploration of possibilities

He said “any mode of communication,” such as Facebook, Twitter and other social media, would do.

“Maybe some of us can … explore possibilities, maybe China can exploit the exclusive economic zones, but under the laws of the (affected) littoral countries,” he said.

Almonte said the Philippines, a littoral country, was “not [rebuking]” China but trying to persuade it to respect international law.

China, he said, will benefit from that alternative by getting returns on its investments and earning “tremendous respect and goodwill” in the international community.

Almonte said Philippine intellectuals, whose ethnicity does not matter, could “identify views that the Chinese articulate” and that could be maneuvered to redirect the Chinese leadership’s policies.

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Deng’s views

He cited the views of Deng Xiaoping, who is credited with launching China’s economic reforms, reflected in the Chinese leader’s 1974 statement to the United Nations General Assembly.

Deng Xiaoping, anticipating the rise of China as a superpower, said it “should not be a victim of its own leadership who may be exploiters, or arrogant … because that will cause the collapse of China,” Almonte said.

Almonte in a phone interview with the Inquirer later, cited former Chinese leader Hu Jintao’s concept of a “harmonious world.”

Mutual education

“The Chinese intellectuals have a concept of harmonious world, brotherhood. But this is utopia. But we are small so we cling to anything where we have space,” Almonte said.

He said an “exchange of ideas” between Filipino and Chinese intellectuals could enable the Chinese intellectuals and the masses in China to “mutually educate each other,” which could “give rise to a natural development of a movement [in China that would enlighten] everybody.”

“For this project to get off, it should be inclusive, motivated by the Chinese national policy,” he said, adding that he was not espousing a revolution in China, though was “not excluding it.”

“If in years to come, [a revolution] happens, then so be it. A revolution is made by the people, and may be the result, the consequences of a peaceful movement,” he said.

Almonte said there should be no problems with intellectuals instead of government officials dealing with Chinese intellectuals.

“Connecting with China will not contradict Philippine government policy, or the policy of the [United States], or even of China, which claims [it abides] by international law [but is] violating it,” he said.

Superpower dream

He added that it’s a “waste of time” to deal directly with the Chinese leadership, as the Chinese leaders may be “fixated” on what some experts call their dream for China to become a superpower.

“Some experts say you can’t be a superpower unless you have a second-strike capacity,” Almonte said. “Second-strike capacity requires that [China be] invulnerable to [launch] a strike. So these experts say the South China Sea is an integral part of the dream, for [the sea] to function just like the Sea of Okhotsk … during the Cold War.”

The Sea of Okhotsk in the northwestern Pacific Ocean was a stronghold of the former Soviet Navy. It was home to ballistic missile submarines of the former Soviet Pacific Fleet, although several US Navy operations to tap Soviet Navy undersea communication cables there had been successful.

Not by diplomacy

Almonte said that as far as China’s superpower dream is concerned, “the South China Sea is necessarily an issue that cannot be resolved by … diplomacy” between the Chinese and the Philippine governments.

“We have to realize that and we have to understand that,” Almonte said. “Otherwise, some of our people will believe that we can persuade China to be a nice friend in the South China Sea. That cannot be, because this is part of their plan.”

Almonte did not say that President Aquino was wrong in bringing the territorial dispute to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (Itlos).

In fact, Almonte said that “whatever happens,” the Itlos is a forum where the dispute can be “discussed.”

“The world could be informed and could make [its] own judgment. And that educates mankind on what is happening in the South China Sea, and [it] can make [its] own decision on what is right and wrong,” he said.

Water under the bridge

Almonte said had Mr. Aquino elevated the issue to the tribunal “years ago,” then Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) “[would] not have been occupied.”

“But that is [water] under the bridge. I don’t want to talk about that anymore,” he said.

Ateneo 198 is composed of 1962 grade school graduates, 1966 high school graduates and 1970 college graduates, Rene Palma, one of the meeting’s organizers, explained.

Palma said the meeting was held for members of the group to talk about current issues and formulate ways of contributing to nation-building.

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TAGS: International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, ITLOS, Jose Almonte, national security, Panatag Shoal, RAM, Reform the Armed Forces Movement, South China Sea, territorial dispute
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