By JEJOMAR C. BINAY
Former Vice President
The administration is being pilloried yet again for its perceived inaction and indifference to reports of supposed incursions by China into our territorial waters.
That China is our friend and ally is not the issue. We have deep ties with China that pre-date our relations with other major powers, including the United States. The ties are not only economic, but cultural and familial as well. These are ties that will help us weather any storm in our relationship.
The issue is whether the administration’s relations with China have become overly friendly, to the point that it has encouraged these incursions. To some observers, the administration’s inaction is tantamount to abandoning our claim to these disputed areas.
When confronted in February about reports of Chinese military activity – particularly the construction of military facilities – in the South China Sea, Malacanang simply dismissed it as old news. The facilities constructed can be seen as a future bequeathal, it said, ours for the taking should we ask China to leave the area.
And lest we forget, Malacanang repeated its mantra: War is not an option.
Yet, just recently, two officials engaged in some semblance of saber-rattling.
The overbearing foreign secretary was reported as telling DFA officials and employees during their flag-raising ceremony – where he also reportedly lectured veteran diplomats on the definition and practice of diplomacy – that the President was willing to go to war with China. A similar statement was made in a breakfast forum by the national security adviser.
And just when you sense a sudden shift in policy direction, the same foreign secretary reiterates the administration’s policy of resorting to quiet diplomacy in dealing with China, in contrast, he says, to the vociferous and aggressive tact of the previous administration.
No one reminded the foreign secretary that a few days ago, he was making what can be described as belligerent statements.
The administration is pursuing a policy of appeasement towards China. Our senior officials may decline to use that word, but that is how the public and the rest of the world sees it. And historians will tell you that appeasement offers only fleeting relief. What is sacrificed are long-term interests, namely security and stability.
Senior officials describe their tact as a more “pragmatic” approach. Angering China, they insist, is pointless since it will only lead to war, something we cannot afford and cannot win.
Yet war is not the only alternative.
We are not bereft of options other than war. We have international and multilateral avenues to pursue our claims or assert our sovereignty, especially when the perception is that it is under threat.
The use of tough language when dealing with other countries is not a pre-condition to asserting our sovereignty. Government may use strong diplomatic language in conveying its position, but it must speak. Silence should never be a policy.
Acquiescing to what observers consider are provocative actions would have far-reaching effects not only on the Philippines but in our region as well. Appeasement may not even deter hegemony, but may even encourage it.
Writing for Foreign Policy, journalist Robert Ricks reminds us that “appeasement is a position of negotiating with a strong state from a position of weakness.”
Ricks wrote: “Remember here that appeasement was the ‘smart’ move because the British thought that if they went to war with Germany, no one else would pitch in (they were basically right) and that for most of the 1930s, they simply weren’t strong enough to take on Germany alone (they were basically wrong, because Germany became stronger with each bite). But, as George Orwell put it, the problem was that they were not willing to pay the price either of peace or war, and so they got both.”
Appeasement is an admission of weakness, and admitting weakness in times of conflict, according to public mediation expert Patrick Susskind, “is tantamount to colluding with the enemy.”
Perhaps it is time for our officials to pause and ask themselves if they are wrong.
No sensible person would advocate war. The Constitution expressly renounces war as a policy instrument, and adopts “the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land.” What is being asked of our government is that it defend and assert what is ours, especially when our claim has been affirmed by an international tribunal.
We can be assertive without being belligerent. We can be a friend and ally, without losing our dignity as a nation.