Tuesday, Bonnie Glaser a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies (CSIS) a Washington, DC-based think-tank testified
before a joint hearing of the U.S. House Armed Services Subcommittee on
Seapower and Projection Forces and the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on
the Asia Pacific.
Glaser, an expert on China advised the committees that “China is pursuing a
‘salami slicing’ strategy. Through a steady progression of small steps, none
of which by itself is a casus belli, Beijing seeks to gradually change the
status quo in its favor.” For the Philippines ‘salami slicing’ translates to
China occupying Mischief Reef just off the coast of Palawan in 1998,
Scarborough Shoal west of Zambales in 2012, and a planned seizure of Pag-Asa
the second largest island in the Spratlys sometime this year.
Compared to other claimant
nations, China sees islands claimed by the Philippines as low-hanging fruit
ripe for the picking. With a government bureaucracy riddled with corruption
and incompetence, and a military incapable of overpowering even a ragtag
group of bandits like the Abu Sayyaf, China knows the Philippines can’t put
up much of a fight.
The country has been
beefing up its long-neglected naval and air services of late, and rightly
so. But even a adequately funded military buildup will be nothing more than
a “drop in the bucket” compared to China’s military might. Thus President
Benigno Aquino III made the right move in seeking international arbitration
under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea or UNCLOS as
both China and the Philippines are signatories to it.
Critics of the president
however point out that he has not done much else after that. Carlye Thayer,
professor emeritus from the University of New South Wales in Canberra,
Australia in reaction to China’s purported plan to take Pag-Asa Island by
force stated that such an act would be a "tragic mistake" for China. Thayer
states further "the political fallout from seizing Pag-asa would be a huge
setback for Chinese diplomacy. ASEAN would likely adopt an uncompromising
political position and demand the immediate withdrawal of Chinese forces."
This is what Aquino should be telling the Chinese and every world leader who
would listen to him.
In her testimony before the
U.S. House of Representatives, Glaser noted that “so far only the U.S. and
Japan have explicitly endorsed Manila’s decision to file a case with the
UNCLOS arbitration panel.” So why hasn’t Malacañang been wooing other
countries in the region over to its side, like Vietnam or Australia?
The stakes are sky-high on
this issue and the lackadaisical Filipino attitude of ‘bahala na’ is simply not
going to cut it. The president has to get out and initiate a charm offensive
along with a bit of arm-twisting to get other leaders to back the
Philippines on this issue. Only when the Chinese realize that world sentiment is
against them and they have a lot more to lose than gain, will they leave
Philippine territory alone. But is Aquino up to the task? From the looks of
it, only time will tell.
MANILA, February 5, 2014 7:17 PM - President Benigno Aquino III is seeking
international support in contesting China's claims over the West Philippine
Sea by comparing Chinese leadership to Nazi's Adolf Hitler before World War
II. The President, in an interview with The New York Times, cited a lesson
from history where Europe failed to support Czechoslovakia against Adolf
Hitler’s demands for the Sudetenland in 1938. "Remember that the Sudetenland
was given in an attempt to appease Hitler to prevent World War II," he said.
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