Seasoned BBC journalist weighs in on West PH Sea scenario

Seasoned BBC journalist weighs in on WPS issues and ‘Taiwan Question’

/ 10:45 PM March 04, 2024
Map showing the disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea, including the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal.
Map showing the disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea, including the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal. AFP FILE

MANILA, Philippines — Jonny Dymond, a seasoned British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) journalist and radio host, weighed in on the government’s “transparency initiative” in the West Philippine Sea affairs as well as Manila and Washington’s role in “The Taiwan Question.”

In an interview with INQUIRER.net on Monday, Dymond shared his insights about these pressing geopolitical issues as he arrived in the capital city for the Philippine leg of the BBC World Questions, an international debate program recorded in different locations globally.

READ: 2023: A look back at rising tension in West PH Sea

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West Philippine Sea

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The West Philippine Sea dispute hogged the local headlines while getting international attention following several incidents stemming from the overlapping claims of Manila and Beijing. 

Beijing’s attempt to thwart Manila’s maritime activities in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal became the flashpoint of tensions between two neighboring countries.

China asserts ownership in almost the entire South China Sea, including most of the western section of Manila’s exclusive economic zone, which was effectively dismissed by an international tribunal in 2016.

Dymond called the development there “concerning”, noting that “small things can blow up very very quickly.”

“I think for all those reasons there is a cause for concern,” he pointed out.

He also noted President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. pivot toward Washington, reversing Rodrigo Duterte’s  friendlier stance towards Beijing.

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The policy shift was also evident in the Marcos administration’s adoption of what it called “transparency initiative”, where members of the press are regularly embedded to report the activities of Chinese coast guard and navy in the West Philippine Sea. 

This was also contrary during the time of the chief executive’s predecessor, when the information about the situation was limited, as noted by Commodore Jay Tarriela, Philippine Coast Guard spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea.

“I should say I am a big fan of transparency and openness,” Dymond said.

Thanks to this initiative, China Coast Guard’s usage of water cannon and military-grade lasers as well as its routine blocking and “dangerous maneuvers” were exposed.

Such actions, Dymond also said, are part of a “wider issue.”

He said: “I think it’s fair to say that, across the west, there is growing concern on the nature of Chinese power and how it’s used and how China wishes to project itself.”

‘The Taiwan Question’

In a stronger tone compared to previous years, China intensified its assertion of Taiwan’s ownership, with President Xi Jinping even deeming “inevitable” the unification of Beijing and the self-ruled island.

China considers Taiwan as a renegade province and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under its control. The democratically-ruled island broke away from the mainland in 1949 when Mao Zedong’s communist forces took over there.

“It is a curious situation,” Dymond said of the Taiwan scenario. “It is hard to believe that you would see overt military action, but then, everybody said that in Ukraine as well.”

In April 2023, Marcos allowed Washington access to four more Philippine military bases under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca). Three of these bases, two in Cagayan and another one in Isabela, are facing Taiwan.

These new Edca sites irked Beijing, stressing that the agreement was made so that Washington could “encircle and contain China” which would drag the Philippines into “the Taiwan question,” a claim that was rejected by Manila.

Amid all this, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also visited Taiwan in August last year. Pelosi is the highest-profile elected US official to visit Taiwan in decades and Beijing regards her presence as a major provocation.

“It is noticeable that [American] President [Joe] Biden toughened up on the US line, the US policy and made public commitments on the defense of Taiwan as he also made commitment to the defense of the Philippines,” he said.

“The concern I think for many people is that it becomes so tense that only a small thing sets off and the situation can easily run out of control.

Debate

These divisive geopolitical matters will be tackled in a debate to be held in Diamond Hotel in Manila on Tuesday where a panel of policymakers and stakeholders will be present.

Interested audiences could still register on the BBC World Question’s website

Dymond said: “I hope there will be a lively debate … I hope that the audience speaks up.”

Tuesday’s debate includes Senator Loren Legarda, who filed the Philippine Maritime Zones bill; along with Rafaela David, the chief convenor of the recent civilian-led mission in the West Philippine Sea.

Philippine Daily Inquirer columnists and West Philippine Sea advocates retired Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and professor Richard Heydarian will also be among the panelists.

READ: China fails to foil Filipinos’ gift-giving mission in West PH Sea

Dymond noted that his program is not just about the politicians and prominent personalities but “is mainly about the audience.”

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“We’re big believers in debate,” he said. “I hope that intelligent debate enables our audience to make their own minds up.”

TAGS: China, Global Nation, Taiwan, West Philippine Sea

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