[OPINION] How to give China pause in the South China Sea
Many are understandably upset with China for its occupation of the entire South China Sea (or West Philippine Sea, if you'd like to be fruitlessly politically correct). (READ: Hague ruling: Are we apologizing for our victory?)
Some historical perspective makes me less upset than most. I think if a lot more natural resources were there, we would have exploited those by now, rather than just sending ramshackle fishing boats. And really, in our sorry history, have you ever seen natural resources make the lives better of the average Filipino, or even just a large town of them? More importantly, I'm not as upset because I know in the world of geopolitics, losing territory to greater powers is simply the way the ball rolls.
The post-World War II era of mostly stable borders across the world would seem to indicate otherwise. But this stability of territories was created and enforced by the major powers, chiefly the United States and the Soviet Union, simply because unstable borders were the cause of two world wars, and they certainly didn't want a third one, knowing that nuclear weapons may well cause human extinction.
With rare exceptions like South Vietnam, territories were mostly sacrosanct even as the Cold War raged. The major powers mostly sought to recruit and support allies, rather than annex territories.
This state of affairs carried on by momentum and fait accompli even after the Cold War ended in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but the underpinnings for it disappeared. Quite simply, the threat of nuclear holocaust for great powers who invade other countries' territories mostly disappeared – except of course if such territorial invasion would be a direct threat to another great power.
We are not alone in losing territory. Ukraine is never getting Crimea back from Russia, nor Georgia, South Ossetia. Mexico is never going to get Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California back from the US, even though President Polk in his memoirs revealed that the pretexts for the Mexican-American War were contrived so that the US could annex these territories.
Celebrities are never going to get the Dalai Lama his country back with photo ops. Having lost wars, the Ottoman Empire and the Prussian Empire are but relics for historians. This list is endless on every continent, from ancient to modern history.
What we can do, however, is try to make China's occupation of the South China Sea a direct threat to other great powers. How? We should announce – preferably along with our other aggrieved neighbors – that since international bodies like the UN Security Council are unable to defend our rightful territory as properly adjudicated in an international court, the Philippines is immediately withdrawing from every treaty that covers warfare. Because we're weak and don't have anyone willing to help defend us, we reclaim the right to use any means necessary to defend ourselves, whether nuclear, chemical, biological, etc.
We, of course, don't currently have the means to develop such weapons we should explain, but simply reserve the right to do so in the future.
This may work because the US and any other countries who contemplate sanctions will realize they would look like total bullies and bad friends since the Philippines is the aggrieved party and doesn't pose a threat to anyone.
But if they don't punish the Philippines, what's to stop Japan, Germany, South Korea, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, and many other more advanced and richer countries from making the same claim and doing the same thing, and for real this time?
Such countries arming themselves with nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction would indeed pose a threat to existing great powers. So could we properly adjudicate the South China Sea please?
The other option, of course, is the ostensibly more utilitarian route of making nice to China, and in exchange for not embarrassing them too much for their stealing the South China Sea, ask for financial assistance that we need as a still-poor country. This appears to be what our government is doing today.
The problem is that China long ago consciously weaponized its financial resources. This is the reason it allowed Taiwan to entangle its economy with China's and the reason it's making huge investments and giving large loans for various strategic projects everywhere in the world. It aims to expand its geopolitical power in this way, and we will not outsmart China in financial matters. They will get more out of these deals than we do, no doubt. Nor will China stop with the South China Sea; already, it's contesting Philippine maritime territorial claims in the east of the Philippines, lest anyone think China cannot possibly make more absurd claims.
I'm told that in an ASEAN forum, when claimants of the South China Sea ganged up on China, the Chinese representative told his Philippine counterpart, "You should be careful; you're all economically dependent on us."
To which I wish, our official had retorted, "Whether or not that's true, contrary to what you believe, not everything is for sale." – Rappler.com
Rafael Reyes is a graduate of Ateneo Grade School and High School, and received his BS and MS degrees from Stanford University. He was the Southeast Asian head for AIG Investments' private equity operations for over a decade, and is now engaged in entrepreneurial activities involving real estate and internet applications.