Monday, May 30, 2016

Living in Harmony by Erick San Juan

Living in Harmony by Erick San Juan

So far so good is the current situation of our fishermen near the Scarborough Shoal as the tension between Chinese vessels and our fishermen eases. Filipino fishermen with their bancas are now enjoying their daily catch peacefully minus the harassment from the Chinese.

President Rody Duterte asked Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua to allow local fishermen near the shoal when the two met on May 16 in Davso. Duterte told reporters. “If you will disallow troll fishing, commercial fishing, I would understand. But those bancas — don’t crush them — because the Filipino also needs to eat.”

A small favor requested by President-elect Duterte and granted by China.

But it would be quite different when it comes to the decision that the Permanent Arbitral Tribunal will release soon which China will not follow.

A reminder given by US President Barack Obama when he called Duterte that he must wait for the ruling of the United Nations arbitration court on the case filed by our country challenging China’s claims in the contested area in the South China Sea.

President Duterte assured Obama that “we will continue with our mutual interests, and that we are allied with the Western (world) on this issue on (the South) China Sea”.

“But I gave him an inkling that, well, I would agree to just go with you. But if it goes on still waters… there’s no wind to move the sail, I might opt to go bilateral,” he told a news program on GMA-News last May 17.

According to a report from The Guardian online, “Fears are growing that there will be a sharp rise in tensions in the South China Sea in the next few weeks after an international tribunal delivers a ruling on disputed islands and reefs that Beijing has said it will reject.

Western officials say they fear China will react to the ruling of the international tribunal for the law of the sea, which is expected to side with the Philippines, by raising the stakes in the busy trade route, expanding its land reclamation and construction activities to reefs in the Scarborough Shoal, close to Manila.

The White House is under pressure from the top US commander in the Pacific and some in Congress to take a tougher line with Beijing and carry out more military patrols close to China’s fortified islands, where there have already been close encounters between ships and planes from the two rival powers.

Beijing, which argues the tribunal has no jurisdiction on the matter, has warned the US against escalating the conflict, saying it will defend itself if necessary.

“Of course, when the ruling comes out, our friends in Philippines and in the United States will preach that the tribunal has binding power, and that China must obey the result. But surely we will be firm in saying that the results are illegal, that the tribunal has no binding power and China will not accept the ruling,” said Liu Zhenmin, the Chinese deputy foreign minister who has been a lead negotiator on the issue.

“The US knows about its own history in south-east Asia. We will oppose the US if it stirs up any conflict in south-east Asia. But if scenarios of the Korean War or Vietnam war are replayed we will have to defend ourselves.”

Liu added that he did not think “things would go as badly as that”, but warned that any US attempt to contain China’s rising sea power was doomed to failure. “We have been saying to our American friends you cannot really circle China by having joint military exercises or building military bases – you were not able to do that 30 years ago, let alone now. China’s rise and development will not be held back by anyone,” he said.

The fear of many countries in the region is China’s firm stand on its claim in the South China Sea and the possible consequence that will arise most especially from the US policy must be considered seriously but with a lot of diplomacy. As what President-elect Duterte said that if all fails from such multilateral negotiations, he will resort to bilateral talks with Beijing, and this will not be favorable to the big brother.

Although both Vietnam and the Philippines affirmed its support as allies of the US,  “Washington should clarify in its respective dialogues with Manila and Hanoi the extent of the United States' obligations and commitments as well as the limits of likely U.S. involvement in future disputes. Clarity is necessary both to avoid a scenario in which regional actors are emboldened to aggressively confront China and to avert a setback to U.S. relations with regional nations due to perceptions of unfulfilled expectations.” (by Bonnie S. Glaser, Senior Advisor for Asia, Center for Strategic and International Studies)

Clarifications as to the extent of Washington’s support will be crucial when push comes to shove between claimants and China.

Lets get our act together and live in harmony with our neighbors and allies.

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