[OPINION] Throwing down the gauntlet

May 24, 2017 at 14:09

Throwing down the gauntlet

For all his professed goodwill toward China, President Duterte, in his heart of hearts, must be angry.

This toughie doesn’t take criticism well, and we can bet that more than criticism, he doesn’t like being threatened. Even if the threat was delivered presumably through an interpreter and some nuances might have been lost in translation. But the translation must have been accurate; the leader of China won’t risk being misinterpreted in his discussions with his Philippine counterpart. Especially when the message being delivered is a threat of war.

President Duterte for sure was sufficiently prepped and fully aware that what he and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping discussed during last week’s meeting in Beijing was not supposed to be made public.

 Instead Duterte gave a detailed disclosure of what transpired, in a speech that was broadcast live nationwide. That was no attack of foot-in-mouth disease; President Duterte said exactly what he wanted to say, and he even repeated several parts of his message.

He disclosed that he had reminded Xi about the ruling of the UN-backed Permanent Arbitration Court on the case that the Philippines won. Duterte told the Chinese that he intended to drill for oil in the West Philippine Sea because “it is ours.”

Xi’s candid response, as disclosed by Duterte, boiled down to “if you press it, we go to war.” If Duterte had quoted Xi accurately, the threat was aimed directly at the Philippines: “We will fight you.”

Since Du30 claims to have some Chinese roots, however, he is probably aware that the Chinese have a unique concept of time, and the “future date” could be 100 or even 1,000 years away.Duterte tried to soften his disclosure. Xi reportedly stressed that he valued improved bilateral ties and Philippine friendship and that the ruling of the arbitral court, which invalidated China’s entire “nine-dash-line” claim over nearly all of the South China Sea, could be discussed at some future date.

So in this age of warp-speed communication and instant gratification, the question on everyone’s mind is, now that China has threatened the Philippines with war, what is tough guy Duterte going to do about it?

*      *      *

The threat was tempered by avowals of friendship, but Duterte is no naïf when it comes to fighting. Xi had thrown down the gauntlet before his Philippine counterpart; this would not have been lost on Toughie Rody.

Duterte’s no-holds-barred conversation with Xi should have at least planted the seeds of doubt on the wisdom of his headlong pivot to China.

The meeting was a test of the effects of the pivot. After several administration officials announced that the arbitral court ruling was not on the agenda of the two presidents’ meeting, Duterte brought it up anyway, possibly to probe how much goodwill his pivot had generated.

Xi didn’t criticize Duterte himself or the drug war or human rights in the Philippines, so the Chinese leader has been spared the expletives Du30 has heaped on Barack Obama, the European Union and UN human rights officials. But Duterte’s public disclosure of such a sensitive message from Xi speaks volumes about what the Philippine President thinks about it.

On Saturday Philippine officials said they were hoping for “a gentleman’s agreement” on the South China Sea between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

This was in reference to the long overdue code of conduct in the disputed waters. But if China won’t honor the ruling of a UN court, based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea that Beijing has ratified, what makes you think the Chinese will honor a regional code?

*      *      *

In deciding the proper course of action, Duterte may want to convene a multisectoral caucus, to include experts in international law and the post-war world order. The caucus can include individuals representing the full spectrum of opinions on China, including persons whose ideas may clash with those of Duterte. At this point, he must be willing to listen to diverse opinions.

After announcing that he intended to drill for oil, Duterte will look like a wimp if he doesn’t go ahead and do it. We have the sovereign right, as specified by the arbitral court, to exploit Recto or Reed Bank for economic purposes. China has no right, as ruled by the same court, to any area covered by its imaginary nine-dash line.

Duterte may have to seriously take into consideration the opinion of Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio about filing another complaint against China before an international court, and possibly bringing the case before the UN General Assembly where China does not exercise veto power.

Might does not make right in the current world order. Contrary to what President Duterte believes, nations with small land areas and weak armed forces can turn to international rules and the support of the global community for peaceful conflict resolution.

Going back to court will undoubtedly not sit well with Beijing. But after disclosing Xi’s threat of war, Duterte can no longer afford to put his China pivot back on its original track. This tack will have to be recalibrated.

Carpio, who has conducted extensive studies on the issue, said Saturday that failure to protest against Xi’s threat would constitute “acquiescence” to Beijing’s claim, which could make the Philippines lose its maritime entitlements in the West Philippine Sea.

And a president’s failure to preserve the country’s sovereign rights, officially recognized by a UN court, could constitute an impeachable offense.

*      *      *

Certain administration officials are also worried that the pivot to China is coming at the cost of friendships based on values shared by free societies.

Those old friendships have an impact on gut issues. The likely loss of the country’s expanded preferential trading status with the European Union, for example, is worrying foreign investors who are manufacturing products in the Philippines for export to EU states. Some of these investors relocated to the Philippines as production costs rose in China. Their operations have helped make the EU the largest destination for Philippine exports.

Taiwan, for example, has eight plants employing 17,000 Filipinos in Cebu alone, manufacturing garments, shoes and leather goods that are exported mainly to the EU under the duty-free preferential trade scheme.

Pinoy seamen may also be affected. At least 28,874 Filipinos serve as crew on EU-registered commercial ships, remitting a hefty $3.35 billion over the years to their loved ones in the Philippines. Some of the sailors are ship captains.

These are not investments or jobs that China can replace, especially now that the threat of war has been raised.

Source: https://www.philstar.com/opinion/2017/05/22/1702318/throwing-down-gauntlet

  All rights to the stock images are owned by Getty Images and its image partners and are protected by United States copyright laws, international treaty provisions and other applicable laws.
Getty Images and its image partners retain all rights and are available for purchase by visiting gettyimages website.

Arangkada Philippines: A Business Perspective — Move Twice As Fast | Joint Foreign Chambers of the Philippines