Territorial disputes

Published May 9, 2021, 12:01 AM

by Dr. Jun Ynares


Dr. Jun Ynares
Dr. Jun Ynares

“What should we do with China?”

Most of the messages we got last week through text and private chat had to do with the controversy surrounding the presence of Chinese boats and ships in waters claimed by our government as part of the West Philippine Sea.

The controversy received its most recent boost from a challenge aired by President Duterte for his critics to engage him on a public debate on this issue. The dare was accepted by former Supreme Court Senior Justice Antonio Carpio. What happens next is everybody’s guess.

Regardless of what next development in this unfolding saga might be, the fact is this issue and how it is being played out in the public stage has some good use. It has taken our mind off the crisis brought about by the pandemic – at least for a brief moment.

It appears the West Philippine Sea (WPS) controversy is not the number one item in the public’s mind. An informal survey among our fellow Antipoleños and Rizaleños showed that their primary concern is not the presence of Chinese vessels in what we claim to be our naval territory. Their attention is focused on what would happen on the 14th of May – on whether or not the Flexible MECQ status of the NCR-plus area would end and be lowered to GCQ.

They are more concerned with basic survival: Food, livelihood, and how to make sure they do not perish due to the virus.

The fact is territorial disputes are a fact of life.

It is a sad fact.

Most of us are familiar with stories of people who killed and who were killed following a serious fight over a piece of land. Accounts of neighbors tangled over decades-long dispute over a half-a-square meter of land are not rare. We have heard of horror stories where people are shot or hacked to death just because they tampered and moved a “mojon,” that small piece of concrete half-buried on the ground and which marks the line where one’s territory begins and another person’s territory ends.

“Territorial dispute” is a standard feature of life in the animal kingdom. Many of the fiercest species in this kingdom value their “territory” and would kill with claws and fangs any intruder into their demarcated physical space.

The West Philippine Sea is not the only international “hotspot” at this point in world history.

There are other major territorial disputes raging in other parts of the globe today. They are all tinderboxes which could potentially trigger a war at any moment.

They include Taiwan which the Beijing government claims to be part of the Mainland China territory. In that list are the disputes between the divided North and South Koreas, between the Israeli and Palestinian nations which has made the Middle East a powder keg, between Japan and Russia over the Kuril Islands, and, between Japan and China over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea – to name a few.

Territorial disputes go beyond the issue of national pride. They involve national survival and the battle over natural resources. Many experts believe the latter is what is at the core of China’s interest in the West Philippine Sea and its apparent firm determination to ensure control over it.

President Duterte has been clear about how the present government is dealing with this issue. He will not confront China. He will not pressure China using the arbitral ruling which the previous government managed to win from an international court in the recent past.

We understand the President’s predisposition in favor of a non-confrontational approach.

After all, confrontation is not the only method available in settling an international row.

There are back-door channels. There’s diplomacy. There’s compromise and collaboration.

The President’s critics are goading him to take a confrontational stance. Our view is this is easy for the President’s political nemeses to say and do. After all, they will not be the one to lead the charge against China. If the present government decides to trigger a military confrontation, it would be the President who would be responsible for the lives that would be lost. His critics will watch from the sidelines and in the comfort of their corporate headquarters.

We also understand that the President may not be counting on the support of our traditional international allies.

The United States is wobbling as a result of its own internal political feud. We doubt that the American taxpayers would allow their government to send troops to the West Philippine Sea to defend the interest of the Philippines. An anti-Asian sentiment is raging in the United States. We cannot count on American soldiers risking their lives for us so we can keep the bounty of the West Philippine Sea for ourselves.

This dispute is teaching us to stand on our own feet.

At this point, we must accept the fact that we do not have the military might that would help us consider an armed confrontation.

A display of machismo would not work on China’s superior fleet and airborne hardware.

It is correct on the part of the national government to consider other options.

This is one issue that we must approach with calm and reason. We must get China to do the same.