PH to China: Walk the talk, bridge gap
The Philippines on Thursday told China to “walk the talk” after Chinese President Xi Jinping said his country would never seek hegemony.
The Philippines has been repeatedly calling on China to stop reclaiming land on reefs in the West Philippine Sea, part of the South China Sea within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ) recognized under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and exercise restraint according to a 2002 agreement signed with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to refrain from taking actions in the disputed sea that could cause tensions in the region.
“We hope to see the gap between China’s pronouncements and the actual conditions on the ground bridged,” Assistant Foreign Secretary Charles Jose, spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), said in a text message.
Speaking at ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Asia, Xi announced that China would cut by 13 percent, or 300,000 troops, one of the world’s biggest militaries, currently 2.3 million strong.
He gave no time frame for a reduction that is likely part of long-mooted military rationalization plans, which have included spending more money on high-tech weapons for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy and Air Force.
The PLA troop numbers have been cut three times already since the 1980s.
“The experience of war makes people value peace even more,” Xi said. “Regardless of the progress of events, China will never seek hegemony, China will seek to expand and will never inflict the tragedies it suffered in the past upon others.”
Xi gave no specific reason for the troop reduction, but bracketed his announcement with assertions of the PLA’s mission to protect China and “uphold the sacred task of ensuring world peace.”
Despite its huge numbers, the PLA has not fought in a major conflict since a brief 1979 border war with Vietnam, although China has long been a major contributor to United Nations peacekeeping missions and since 2008 has joined in multination antipiracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden.
Xi’s announcement could be seen as an attempt to soften the impact of Thursday’s spectacle that saw 12,000 troops march through the center of Beijing, accompanied by tanks, bomber aircraft and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Shunned by major powers
The parade was largely shunned by Japan, the United States and other major democracies that have grown concerned about China’s increasingly aggressive moves to assert its territorial claims in the South China Sea and elsewhere.
Besides the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan have overlapping claims with China in the South China Sea, where a third of global trade worth $5 trillion passes every year and where islets, atolls and reefs are believed to be sitting atop massive oil and gas reserves.
No PH representative but Estrada
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Wednesday night that the official representative of the Philippines, Ambassador to China Erlinda Basilio, would not attend the military parade in Beijing.
Del Rosario said, however, that Basilio would attend cultural events on the sidelines of the parade.
Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, a former President of the Philippines, attended the parade. He said earlier that he was going to the Chinese celebrations because Beijing and Manila were sister cities.
Xi kicked off the proceedings with a speech at the iconic Tiananmen Gate in the heart of Beijing, flanked by Chinese leaders and foreign dignitaries, including Russian leader Vladimir Putin, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
After his speech, Xi drove past the assembled troops in a Chinese-made Red Flag limousine, standing up through a sunroof with four microphones mounted in front of him, calling out “Greetings, Comrades” every few moments, before the troops started to march.
PLA show of force
The spectacle involved more than 12,000 troops, 500 pieces of military hardware and 200 aircraft of various types, representing what military officials say is the Chinese military’s most cutting-edge technology.
The parade was part of commemorations packaged to bolster the ruling Communist Party’s self-declared role as the driving force behind Japan’s defeat 70 years ago and savior of the nation, though historians say the rival Nationalists did most of the fighting.
The events also minimized the role of the United States, Britain and others in ending the war.
Most leading democracies kept high-level representatives away, reflecting concerns over the parade’s anti-Japanese tone and China’s recent aggressive moves to assert territorial claims.
The United States sent only its ambassador to observe. In Washington, US defense department spokesman Bill Urban said that the United States was maintaining such commemorations should be about reconciliation and that a “large military display would not appear to be consistent with this theme.”
Under Xi, who took power as party leader in late 2012, Beijing has sent ships to confront Japan’s Coast Guard near disputed islands in the East China Sea, blockaded Philippine island outposts and constructed whole islands from reefs, topping them with airstrips and other military infrastructure.
China usually holds lavish military parades only every 10 years to mark the anniversary of the founding of the communist People’s Republic in 1949.
By holding an additional one now, Xi ensured that he would preside over at least two of the prestigious events during his decadelong tenure in power ending in 2023.
The parade pandered to a prickly strain of nationalism in a Chinese public constantly reminded by state propaganda of China’s past humiliations at the hands of foreign powers, especially Japan, which is widely despised for its perceived failure to properly atone for invading China.
While a hit at home, such sentiments heighten fears abroad about China’s intended uses of its newfound power, frustrating Beijing’s attempts to market itself as a responsible member of international society committed to the common good.
“In domestic terms, it’s certainly a plus for Xi. But in foreign policy terms, it’s controversial. It doesn’t enhance China’s soft power. It doesn’t help China’s image as a force for peace, stability and development,” said Joseph Cheng, a retired academic and political analyst in Hong Kong.
Resistance to Japan remains a core component of the party’s foundational myth and is used as a key source of legitimacy in the absence of a popular mandate derived from free elections.
TV stations this week were filled with wartime dramas highlighting the role of communist soldiers, and at a news conference in the lead-up to the parade, top party historian Gao Yongzhong said it had long been established that “the Communist Party was the linchpin in the victory.”
“The Chinese Communist Party is trying to take credit for a war it didn’t win and in fact in which it did very little fighting,” said June Teufel Dreyer, a China historian at the University of Miami.
Foreign observers were watching the parade for any indications of new military capabilities.
Of special interest was the appearance of the DF-21D antiship ballistic missile, potentially capable of sinking a US Nimitz-class aircraft carrier in a single strike.
Although questions remain over its reliability on the battlefield, the weapon has stirred concerns in the Pentagon about the vulnerability of US military assets in the case of an attack on Japan, Taiwan or American bases in Asia.—With wire reports
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