‘China just defending vs US in South China Sea’
Not much has been said about the reason behind China’s land reclamation on disputed islets and reefs in the South China Sea.
But a visiting Chinese scholar, in a recent interview with reporters at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, explained that the reclamation was meant more as a defensive measure against increased US presence in the Asia Pacific region.
Li Kaisheng, associate research professor at the Institute of International Relations of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and part of a group of Chinese academics on a study tour of the Philippines, said the Chinese reclamation was “a condemnation of international arbitration” proceedings initiated by the Philippines in the United Nations.
“Since 2009, [US] President [Barack] Obama suggested a strategic upheaval in the Asia Pacific…that by 2020, 60 percent of the US military will be deployed to the Asia Pacific region,” Li said.
“So this is a big pressure on China [since] there is a power competition between China and the United States. So many Chinese people believe the Philippines is a policy tool of the United States [military] strategy. In this case, the Chinese government has to do something,” Li said, explaining China’s “hidden” reason for its island-building in the South China Sea.
“Personally, I hope the Philippines is not a pawn in the China-US power competition. But, apparently, now it is. So this is an unfortunate fact for our bilateral relations,” Li said.
Li also claimed that other countries, including the Philippines, have also occupied internationally disputed islands in the South China Sea.
“[Vietnam] occupied maybe 40, 50 disputed features. Philippines eight islands, Chinese eight islands,” he said.
Li suggested that, rather than settling the dispute through international arbitration, which questions China’s claim over nearly all of the South China Sea, the Chinese and the Philippine governments should engage in direct “political negotiations.”
“If you look at the history of China’s territorial disputes with other countries, we have so many disputes, not only with the Philippines. But since 1949, China has resolved disputes with more than 10 countries by political negotiations. In some cases, in most cases, it’s China that gives up more,” Li said.
He suggested the two counties put more focus on “cooperation in the economic field.”
“On economic issues, we have so many common interests,” Li said, citing tourism, agriculture and infrastructure.
Li encouraged both governments to use the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Manila in November to build goodwill.
He also said the Philippines could benefit from applying to be a founding member of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
“I think China is still welcoming if the Philippines wants to be a founding member. If we check China’s plans, the Philippines is not excluded,” Li said.
Earlier last week, a US official visited the Philippines for discussions of the South China Sea dispute with local officials.
Assistant Secretary William R. Brownfield, head of the US Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), accompanied by US Coast Guard commandant Adm. Paul F. Zukunft, arrived in the Philippines Wednesday for a two-day visit.
In a press conference at the Philippine National Police headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City, held on Wednesday after a meeting with PNP Director General Ricardo Marquez, Brownfield said he was in the country to follow up on the commitment of Obama to increase and improve maritime law enforcement cooperation in the Southeast Asian region.
“Admiral Zukunft and I are concluding a visit that has brought us to Indonesia, Vietnam and now the Philippines,” Brownfield said.
Updated on Oct. 8, 2015, to correct paragraphs 8 and 10
The original version of this article, which appeared on the Philippine Daily Inquirer, stated on the eighth paragraph that “‘[Burma] occupied maybe 40, 50 disputed features.'” It should be Vietnam. The 10th paragraph, meanwhile, said “since 1941, China has resolved disputes with more than 10 countries by political negotiations.” It should be 1949.
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