MANILA, Philippines – In the dispute over Scarborough Shoal, China is “overreacting” because Beijing still sees the Philippines as a US proxy, a foreign policy expert told Rappler.
“The Philippines, in the overall scheme of things, is not important enough for China to worry about. China is overreacting to everything because they see us as a US ally,” said Aileen Baviera, professor of Asian Studies at the University of the Philippines.
“We have a problem with China, but China’s problem is with the United States,” Baviera added. ” Whatever we say, China looks at us as a US proxy.”
US defense assistance but no more troops
So, what should the Philippines do to manage this relationship?
“We don’t have much leverage, so we need to be active on all fronts,” she said.
One of these fronts are stronger military ties with Washington that should be focused on assistance and training for law enforcement.
“I would rather have the US sending ships and training the AFP and the Coast Guard rather than deploying more troops” or even setting up permanent bases, which anyway is banned by the Constitution.
Baviera said that “on any compromise or concessions, the limit should be the Constitution.” She is not against new formulas such as offshore bases.
Whatever happens with China, the alliance will and should continue as “it is supposed to be a deterrent” to Beijing’s military might.
‘Lowest point’ in PH-China relations
Scarborough Shoal, according to this foreign policy expert, is the lowest point in Philippine-Chinese relations since 1975.
“The way (the dispute) has been handled by both sides, especially through the media, has made it a very public issue. There is suspicion and resentment on both sides, and we had never gotten this far before.”
On top of that, China will not make a move in the next few months as there is a leadership transition from President Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping, and the new leader will not adopt any action that can be perceived as weakness towards the Philippines.
“If we are looking for a way out, it has to be a stepping back by both sides, but most likely nothing will come from China in the near future,” said Baviera.
More engagement with regional bloc
After the last Asean summit, when Cambodia blocked attempts to issue a joint communique what was going to include the dispute in the South China Sea, the Philippines has to re-examine its latest foreign policy initiatives and figure out what went wrong, noted the professor.
“What happened with Asean really hurt Philippine interests,” she said.
But it not too late to repair the now damaged relations with the regional bloc, essential for any peaceful resolution of the territorial dispute with China as other 3 member countries — Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam — are also claimants to parts of the Spratlys.
Asean, Baviera stressed, “has to be a very big part of Philippine foreign policy regarding the West Philippine Sea and relations with China because if it is bilateral alone, we don’t have much leverage.”
“The South China Sea is not just a territorial dispute, it threatens the stability of the region.”
PH made wrong case for itself with ASEAN
Instead of complaining about China’s “bullying” and making it a domestic, the Philippines should have pushed the idea that the situation in the Spratlys should interest all Asean member countries, not just the claimants.
“The case the Philippines should have made is that the South China Sea issue is a test of how China’s role as the regional power is going to be and how that will affect its relations with its smaller and weaker neighbors.”
Instead of that, Manila compelled the regional bloc to “stand up to China.”
“Of course, other countries feel that it is not their issue, so why get into trouble with China?, she asked, and explained that the message should have been: It is not about doing what is best for the Philippines, it is about doing what is best for the region.”
“Since the Aquino administration took over, we haven’t been playing our Asean cards right, and now we are seeing the consequences.” – Rappler.com