Panda hugger blues

is the subject of my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:

What amazes me about the Kalayaan/Spratly islands issue is how logic and reality have completely been thrown out of the proverbial window for God knows what purpose. All of a sudden, we hear or read public commentators or politicians telling Filipinos to refrain from being too “belligerent” against China, to be more considerate and gentle in asserting our national interests, and -- in so many words -- to be suspicious of imperialist US intentions when it proffers help and trust China instead.

What do these guys know about China? Information gleamed from Chinese press kits distributed during cocktail parties hosted by the Chinese? With all due respect (and remember I’m not insulting anyone as I said the words “with all due respect”): “Xie xie, idjits ...” How a country as small and as yet to be wealthy as ours can actually be considered intimidating to a supposedly rich and militarily powerful China is beyond me. Belligerent for merely standing up for our rights? Combative for correctly calling the disputed areas as the West Philippine Sea? Quarrelsome for calling attention to the fact that China is parking military vessels and installations in the area, thus making any future legal or negotiated settlement either inutile or a foregone conclusion?

Some Filipinos have really been duped by China’s game of appearing to be the victim when actually it’s Asia’s resident bully. Have they forgotten the Senkaku area, where a Chinese trawler intentionally rammed itself into Japanese coast guard ships while within disputed waters? Or, as reported by the Wall Street Journal (China’s aggressive new diplomacy, Oct. 1, 2010), when: “Chinese fishing boats harassed a U.S. Navy ship in [international] waters xxx More recently, fleets of Chinese fishing ships illegally entered Indonesian waters in May and June, leading to a stand-off with Indonesian patrol craft that ended when one of the Chinese vessels aimed a large-caliber gun at the Indonesians. xxx China’s new assertiveness is more than a matter of provocation and petulance. It’s also a new state of mind. ... when Hillary Clinton took the side of Vietnam in mildly pushing back against China’s claims to th South China Sea, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi could barely contain his anger. Calling the Secretary of State’s remarks ‘an attack on China,’ he lectured that ‘China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that’s just a fact.’”

This is a country whose government can’t be relied on to be reasonable. At the height of the Senkaku incident, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu, in an incredible display of undiplomatic speak, dismissed Japan’s statements outright by saying that “it is futile to play tricks by deceiving the world and international public opinion” and that “Japan’s sophistry is untenable.” Actually, all that Japan said was for China to remain “calm.” When ASEAN and the US issued a bland 2010 joint statement reaffirming “the importance of regional peace and stability, maritime security, unimpeded commerce, and freedom of navigation, in accordance with relevant universally agreed principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and other international maritime law, and the peaceful settlement of disputes,” China went hysterical and aggressively claimed “sovereignty over the entire sea and all the island groups within it.”

Actually, this is a country whose government can’t be relied upon. Period. As George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center recently wrote: “For some time, a modus vivendi was in place between the Vatican and Beijing on the appointment of bishops. It was never codified, but everyone knew the basic rules of the road: No bishops are to be ordained without the tacit approval of the Holy See. The regime brazenly broke that working agreement late last year, going so far as to drag one elderly Chinese bishop by his hair to an illicit episcopal ordination.”

Let us not also forget that this is a country whose government recently executed three of our nationals. That bullied other countries into boycotting the Nobel Peace Prize award to Liu Xiaobo. Whose military has resorted to repeatedly harassing the Philippines in asserting its dubious claims.

So, while indeed we should strive for diplomatic means in resolving the Spratly issue, it should be done without forgetting who we’re dealing with and always with the thought that we’re legally in the right. Because we are. Filipinos who do not understand public international law should shut their yakkity pie-hole and stop peddling wrong information. There’s one public international law and that law is in our favor. Period. Let no Filipino be dumb enough to say China has a legal point. If China thinks they’re right then let’s invite them to settle the issue in court. But, curiously, China does not want to go to court. Which tells you something.

Our country should not be ashamed of standing up for its interests, as well as its (alleged) democratic and human rights values.