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The Philippines Should Stand by Obama and Talk About China's Bullying at the APEC Summit

U.S. President Barack Obama

hile China seems to have intimidated most APEC participants into avoiding any mention of their illegal activities in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), American President Barack Obama seems to have finally found the nerve to speak out publicly against it and says he plans to do so at the upcoming APEC meeting. For the past year and a half, on the bad advice of his National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Obama kept silent about China's ongoing construction on shoals and reefs in the South China Sea. The U.S. Navy's operational plans to sail ships through the area were also placed on hold which gave China the mistaken notion that it had a green light to do as it pleased all over the region.

But now that Obama seems to have belatedly come to his senses and seen fit to speak out about it, the Philippines must do the same. How can Filipinos afford not to? If they remain silent, the Chinese will use their silence as a sign of acceptance of China's dominion over all of the South China Sea. The Chinese can even argue that point to the arbitrators in the Hague saying for instance that "we told the Filipinos to stay away from Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) and they complied, which means they tacitly accept our dominion over it." Never mind that Panatag Shoal is just 124 nautical miles from Zambales and can be found on Philippine maps dating back hundreds of years.

China's Nine-Dash line claim on the other hand is nothing but the figment of some Chinese communist apparatchik's imagination whose origin goes back only to December of 1947. The only reason the Chinese are currently asserting their ridiculous Nine-Dash claim is because they now have the military might to force countries like the Philippines to accept it.

China's nine-dash line

Filipinos should stop being intimidated and call out China's bullying whenever and wherever they can. Some naive individuals still believe that they can sweet-talk China into relenting and giving back what they took. As an example, Filipinos bent over backwards to welcome Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during his visit last week. Everyone from the president on down were all smiles and gave Wang a royal welcome. Then everyone was taken aback when Wang later had some harsh words for the Philippines. Filipinos need to stop such naïveté and realize that "Filipino hospitality" will not be enough to alter China's claims in the South China Sea.

In fact in June of this year, Wang himself stated that Chinese leaders would not be able to concede anything in the South China Sea because if they did, they “would not be able to face [their] forefathers and ancestors.”  The Chinese have thus painted themselves into a corner and won't be backing down anytime soon ... unless they are forced to.

The handmade barong tagalog that will be presented to Chinese President Xi Jinping to wear at the gala dinner, the keepsake mementos, and all the smiling Filipino faces and friendly handshakes won't change a thing. Filipinos who think there's a chance the Chinese will relent are simply deluding themselves.

What Filipinos must do—from the president on down—is stand firm and show resolve. The Philippines must take every opportunity to express its displeasure with the loss of its sovereignty over many of the Spratly islands that China took from it. The Philippines might be small and militarily weak, but Filipinos will need to stand tall and firm and ally themselves with countries like the United States which is trying to build a coalition big enough and powerful enough to make the Chinese back away from their ridiculous claims in the South China Sea. Published 11/16/2015

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