Unlike Duterte, Aquino doubts China will wage war over West PH Sea

Mara Cepeda
'Sila rin naman eh namomroblema paano ba nila tayo papatulan na hindi lumabas na bully,' says former president Benigno Aquino III of the Philippines and China's maritime dispute

NO WAR? Former president Benigno Aquino III says China would not want to appear like a bully to its trading partners. File photo by Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Former president Benigno Aquino III is not convinced by his successor Rodrigo Duterte’s claim that asserting the country’s rights over the West Philippine Sea would only lead to war with China.

Aquino said on Wednesday, July 24, that it would be too rash for China to resort to violence against the Philippines, as the economic giant would not want to appear as a “bully” to its other trading partners in Asia.

“Mayroon kang isang superpower, papatulan ang isang maliit na bansa tulad ng Pilipinas. Hindi ba kakabahan ang lahat ng ibang mga bansa, ‘Ganito pala ang ugnayan sa People’s Republic of China’?” the former president told television network Net 25. 

(You have a superpower and it would go after a smaller country like the Philippines. Won’t other countries get nervous and say, “So this is how it’s like to deal with the People’s Republic of China”?)

“So siguro kung tayo’y namomroblema na makakatapat ang isang dambuhalang bansa tulad ng Tsina, sila rin naman eh namomroblema paano ba nila tayo papatulan na hindi lumabas na bully,” added Aquino.

(So if we’re perhaps having problems over the possibility of facing a superpower like China, then they too are also in a dilemma over how to fight us without looking like a bully.)

This is in stark contrast to the pacifist view Duterte took on during his 4th State of the Nation Address (SONA), when he once again reiterated that asserting the Philippines’ rights over the West Philippine Sea – a part of the South China Sea that belongs to the Philippines – would only lead to war with China.  

Aquino argued that China is relying heavily on its trading partners to continue growing its economy. He said that if China goes to war against the Philippines, its relationship with other countries would be affected as well. 

“So uulitin ko lang ano: Kung ang susi sa kanilang (China) katahimikan ay patuloy na pag-unlad ng kanilang ekonomiya at pagbuti ng kabuhayan ng kanilang mga kababayan, importante na mayroon silang tinatawag na access [to] markets at tsaka resources,” said Aquino.

(So let me just repeat this: If the key to maintaining China’s peace is continued economic progress and the improvement of their citizens’ lives, then it is important that they have access to markets and resources.)

“Kapag kinabahan ‘yung mga trading partners, parang mahirap atang makipag-ugnayan dito, tapos ang iyong access sa iyong mga market at resources, at mapapahirapan ‘yung pagpapatuloy ng pagyabong ng ekonomiya,” he added.

(If trading partners get nervous and start thinking it is difficult to deal with them, then that would mark the end of their access to markets and resouces, and it would be difficult for their economy to continue prospering.)

It was during Aquino’s presidency when the Philippines took China to court to challenge the latter’s 9-dash-line claim over the West Philippine Sea. 

The Philippines won this historic case in July 2016. But Duterte has since set aside the victory in favor of getting loans from China.

During his 4th SONA, Duterte said he was left with no choice but to go easy on the Chinese and put off pushing for the arbitral award because of China’s military advantage over the Philippines. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.