The Dragon and the Mosquito
On July 8, hundreds of Filipino Americans demonstrated in front of all six of China’s consular offices in the U.S. to protest China’s dispatch of its giant oil rig to the Spratly Islands which is within the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines. On that same day, the front page of the Manila dailies featured a photo of China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosariowith a caption describing their agreement not to let the Spratly dispute affect friendly relations between the two countries.
China had invited Secretary Del Rosario only on July 7 to come to Beijing on July 8, the day before the global protests against China’s incursion in the Spratly Islands. While the curious timing of the July 8 events may lead some to conclude that there was a connection, it likely was just a coincidence.
The Beijing photo-op was more likely China’s psy-war response to the U.S. Senate’s unanimous approval of the resolution on June 27 deploring China’s use of force against Vietnamese and Philippine ships in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). The bipartisan resolution authored by Sen. Jim Webb and Sen. Jim Inhofe “reaffirms the strong support of the United States for the peaceful resolution of maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and pledges continued efforts to facilitate a multilateral, peaceful process to resolve these disputes.”
According to the Xinhua news press release accompanying the Beijing photo-op, “Both ministers exchanged views on the maritime disputes and agreed not to let the maritime disputes affect the broader picture of friendship and cooperation between the two countries.” Xinhua news also reported that Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, widely viewed as China’s top leader in 2013 when current President Hu Jintao steps down, met with Secretary Del Rosario and that he described their meeting as “productive”.
But “productive” is not how Secretary Del Rosario described it when he returned to Manila after the two day photo-op. When asked at a news conference if China had assured him that it would stop military intrusions into the West Philippine Sea even as it promised to continue to dialogue with the Philippines regarding the territorial dispute, Secretary Del Rosario said “no”.
Del Rosario said that when he proposed to China’s officials that their maritime dispute be adjudicated by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, an independent judicial body established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), China said “no”.
“While we base our claim on international law, specifically UNCLOS,” Del Rosario said, China officials base their claim on “historic rights,” referring to the 120 A.D. map of the Han Dynasty that identifies the Spratlys as the Nansha Islands. As Ted Laguatan pointed out, by that absurd argument, Italy can also lay claim to most of Europe as they were all in the ancient maps of the Roman Empire.
The only agreement reached in Beijing, Del Rosario said, was “we agreed to disagree.”
Certainly Beijing did not agree to recall back to Shanghai the $892 million deepwater semi-submersible drilling platform (Ocean Petroleum 981) that China Daily reported as having left Shanghai on May 24, 2011 bound for somewhere in the South China Sea. According to the China press, this is “the world’s most advanced super oil rig”, capable of operating at a water depth of 3,000 meters and drilling depth of 12,000 meters, with nine power generators on the platform that can provide electricity for nearly 200,000 people, which took China three years to build. China is confident that the oil rig will be operational by August, 2011.
At its peak, China expects to draw $50 billion worth of oil annually from what FilAm protestors at the China consulate rallies said was “Philippine soil! Philippine oil!” Imagine what the Filipino people could do with this $50 billion revenue. Consider that 10 million OFWs (many who labor at virtual slave wages and conditions) only collectively remit to the Philippines $17 billion a year. With this oil revenue pumped into the local economy, Filipinos will not need to work abroad.
China is already counting on the future oil to be drawn from the Spratlys to fuel its massive energy needs. Because of what is at stake for China’s future, it is deploying its lone aircraft carrier, newly-purchased from Russia, to the West Philippine Sea to protect its oil rig. The presence of this carrier could proboke a military confrontation.
In an ominous note, Ellen Tordesillas reported in her July 11, 2011 column that “Hardliners in the Chinese Military Academy are raring to teach China’s neighbors “a lesson” for intruding into the South China Sea, which they consider part of their national territory.”
These “hardliners”, according to Shen Hong-Fang, professor and senior research fellow at the Center of Southeast Asian studies at Xiamen University, believe that “it is the right time to adopt necessary measures to teach some countries a lesson.”
Shen told participants at the two-day Conference on the South China Sea held in Manila last week that they believe it justifiable “for China to launch a war against the invaders.” Shen reiterated previous declarations of China’s officials that the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) is a “core national interest,” just like Tibet and Taiwan.
While this Spratly issue is the top news story of Filipino community newspapers throughout the United States this week, it has only merited occasional mention in the Manila dailies which are more preoccupied with stories about Davao Mayor Sara Duterte and the sheriff she punched as well as the Philippine bishops who received SUVs from former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Out of the ten columns in the Philippine Daily Inquirer print edition, only one was devoted to the Spratlys issue and it was by Rep. Walden Bello, who reprinted the questions asked of him by a China newspaper and his responses. When asked if war with China over the Spratlys was inevitable, he responded that he did not believe so although “naval encounters are a possibility”.
But, Bello wrote, “China must really climb down from its aggressive posture, otherwise, a chain of events may ensue that goes out of control… Multilateral diplomacy for a comprehensive settlement of the West Philippine Sea issue is the best way to avoid such an unintended conflict.”
Unfortunately, China stoutly rejects multilateral diplomacy and insists only on bilateral diplomacy, one on one between itself and the Philippines. And why not? China has 2,255,000 soldiers while the Philippines has only 113,000. China has 1,900 planes while the Philippines has only 257. China has a total of 760 ships to go with its one aircraft carrier, 21 destroyers, 68 submarines and 42 modern frigates while the Philippines has none of those except one WW II vintage frigate, Rajah Humabon, and 36 serviceable ships to patrol 7,180 islands.
With that kind of dominant military superiority, why wouldn’t China insist on bilateral talks? Why would China even consider multilateral diplomacy where the Philippines would have the benefit of the combined forces of the ASEAN countries and the US to somewhat equalize the odds?
China is the mighty giant dragon pitted against a tiny mosquito. But that tiny mosquito has global relatives who are calling the attention of the world to the bullying of the dragon.
For more information on the mosquito’s global relatives, log on to epeoplepower.ph or usp4gg.org.
(Send comments to [email protected] or mail them to the Law Offices of Rodel Rodis at 24529 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127 or call 415.334.7800).
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