Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Philippines - Talks with China: Open with caution

WE EXPECTED the advice to President Rodrigo Duterte of his four predecessors to “proceed with caution” in dealing with China on territorial issues that had been decided in favor of the Philippines by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

The counsel given by former Presidents Ramos, Estrada, Arroyo and Aquino during the National Security Council meeting last Wednesday actually suggested itself, because it appears to be the only sane and safe approach to improving relations with China under the circumstances.

It would be disastrous for President Duterte’s special envoy, passing through either the front door or the back channel, to march to Beijing waving the PCA ruling assailing China’s “nine-dash line” unilateral acquisition of territory as a violation of international law.

The President’s emissary to Beijing must not present an agenda topped by the PCA, as hotheads would have it. Malacañang should follow its disposition to have direct dialogue, instead of the multilateral approach suggested by the White House.

The Hague award (ruling), for which Mr. Duterte has thanked his predecessor Mr. Aquino, is an ace that could be played at the proper time later in the game.

At the moment, the first order of business is to start neighborly conversations with focus on how to repair relations and search for ways to enhance people-to-people dealings. The more contentious topics can wait for favorable weather.

Manila’s opening the dialogue by citing the PCA ruling would raise the non-negotiable question of sovereignty and could immediately torpedo the talks.

ASEAN statement silent on PCA ruling

FORMER Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and former ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia Jr. had criticized Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay’s not insisting that the PCA ruling be mentioned in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations closing statement in its recent meeting in Laos.

But the already explosive regional situation would have heated up had the Philippines insisted on it. Such move could even lead to the breakup of ASEAN, some of whose 10 members are in China’s sphere of influence.

Despite its holding the PCA ace, the Philippines is proceeding with caution, preferring to wait and move according to the universally accepted pacific modes of settling disputes.

President Duterte has already said that war is not an option. If only because of the wide disparity in Chinese and Philippine military might (shown in the Globalfirepower.com data cited below), moving in a confrontational way may not be a good maneuver.

Mr. Duterte has chosen former President Fidel V. Ramos to open exploratory talks with Beijing. The EDSA hero, whose age 88 happens to be a Chinese lucky number, got an early introduction to China studies from his father Narciso, a long-time ambassador to the Republic of China and later foreign secretary.

It is hoped that sooner or later the more substantial issues, including the safety and livelihood of Filipinos fishing at Panatag (Scarborough) shoal, would be taken up in earnest by the two neighbors in good faith.

But Del Rosario is pessimistic: “My experience before was, a bilateral meeting with China is not very productive. China will stick by the position that they have indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea.”

Philippines no military match to China

COMPARING the military might of the Philippines (No. 51 among 126 nations surveyed) and China (No. 3), one might understand why President Duterte prefers to talk rather than confront China on the PAC ruling.

Below are data taken from the Globalfirepower.com website comparing the firepower of 126 nations. We placed side by side the figures for the Philippines and China, with those of the United States (No. 1) referenced in parenthesis:

Population: Phl 101M; Chn 1.4B; (US 321.3M).

Manpower available: Phl 50.7M; Chn 750M; (US 145M).

Fit for service: Phl 41.575M; Chn 619M; (US 120M).

Active military men: Phl 220,000; Chn 2.335M; (US 1.4M).

Active reserves: Phl 430,000; Chn 2.3M; (US 1.1M).

Aircraft (all types): Phl 135; Chn 2,942; (US 13,444).

Helicopters: Phl 91; Chn 802; (US 6,084).

Attack helicopters: Phl 0; Chn 200; (US 957).

Attack aircraft (Fixed-wing): Phl 8; Chn 1,385; (US 2,785).

Fighter aircraft: Phl 0; Chn 1,230; (US 2,308).

Transport aircraft: Phl 74; Chn 782; (US 5,739).

Serviceable airports: Phl 247; Chn 507; (US 13,513).

Tank strength: Phl 45; Chn 9,150; (US 8,848).

AFV* strength: Phl 778; Chn 4,788; (US 41,062).

SPG* strength: Phl 0; Chn 1,710; (US 1,934).

Towed artillery: Phl 270; Chn 6,246; (US 1,299).

MLRS* strength: Phl 0; Chn 1,770; (US 1,331).

Major ports/terminal: Phl 6; Chn 15; (US 24).

Fleet strength: Phl 119; Chn 714; (US 415).

Aircraft carriers: Phl 0; Chn 1; (US 19).

Submarines: Phl 0; Chn 68; (US 75).

Frigates: Phl 3; Chn 48; (US 6).

Destroyers: Phl 0; Chn 32; (US 62).

Corvettes: Phl 11; Chn 26; (US 0).

Patrol craft: Phl 38; Chn 138; (US 13).

External debt: Phl $77,670M; Chn $949,600M; (US $17.260T).

Defense budget: Phl $3,000M; Chn $155,600M; (US $581T)

Oil production (bbl): Phl 21,000; Chn 4.189M; (US 8.653M).

Coastline (km): Phl 36,289; Chn 14,500; (US 19,924).

Land area (sq km): Phl 300,000; Chn 9,596,961; (US 9,826,675).

(*AFV= armored fighting vehicle; *SPG= self-propelled gun (artillery piece); *MLRS= multiple rocket system; *MBT= main battle tank)

Globalfirepower.com sources: CIA.gov. CIA World Factbook, Wikipedia.com, public domain print and media sources and user contributions. Some values may be estimates when official sources are lacking.

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