By Victor N. Corpus
October 16, 2016 – The upcoming RP-China talks on the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea put the Philippines at the vital cross-road to war or peace. The choice of which road to take, war or peace, all depends on what strategy the Philippine negotiating team will adapt. A “win-lose strategy”, otherwise known as a “zero-sum game” will lead the Philippines to war; or, end up with zero benefits: zero oil; zero gas; and zero fish; in addition to angering a neighbor who is now the largest economy in the world in terms purchasing power parity measurement of its GDP. This neighbor is also our largest trading partner, bigger than RP trade with the US and Japan combined. The other road, which is a “win-win strategy”, will lead the Philippines to both peace and progress. It involves settling the issue of sovereignty acceptable to both parties; and ensure that the core interests of both sides are properly addressed and satisfied.
We have had a taste of a “win-lose strategy” when we unanimously won our case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. It was a total win for RP and a total loss for China. But this victory will eventually end up as a “zero-sum” game for us because China will make sure that we do not get a single drop of oil, a single cubic feet of gas, or even a single piece of fish in the disputed area. What we got instead are China’s fully-armed strategic bombers patrolling Scarborough Shawl and other Chinese-occupied islands in the disputed area. One such bomber (H6K) is capable of destroying all the six EDCA bases being used by US forces on Philippine soil in a single sortie; to include US bases in Australia if China wishes to. China’s submarines can deliver the same package if they are also now patrolling the disputed area declared by PCA as illegal as they are within the nine-dash line adjudge as non-existent. So, we won a tactical victory in the legal arena; but we are losing strategically on the geopolitical arena. Now we can say that all the islands claimed by China in the South China Sea is illegal. What if China, in revenge to what we have done, start occupying all the islands occupied by the Philippines? Have our leaders ever thought of that? Are we sure that US will come to our aid and die for us? All these are the dilemma we now face as a result of our “win-lose strategy” we have adapted in trying to resolve the sea dispute with China.
As talks with China approaches, it may be timely to contemplate on the right strategy to adapt. The initial choice of our negotiating team is critical at this point. If the President chooses negotiators who are inherently or historically hostile to China, then expect that our team will pursue a “win-lose strategy” that will eventually lead to war and/or we do not benefit at all from the rich resources of the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea under dispute. If President Duterte really does not want war as he has declared in the past, then he should dictate or command the Philippine negotiating team to adapt and follow a “win-win strategy” at the same time shunning the “win-lose strategy”. It is also the prime responsibility of the President to personally select the members of the negotiating team to make sure that each team member is not a warmonger, does not harbor innate hostility against the other party, and has the interest of the nation foremost in his heart; and not willing pawns of foreign interests whose dream is to sabotage and torpedo the incoming negotiations. These first moves are critical. As the saying goes: one false move on the chessboard losses the whole game. Wrong choice by the President on who will represent him in the incoming negotiations with China may mean the difference between war or peace.
What is the “win-win strategy”? This negotiation strategy involves a win for both sides: the Philippines and China. But before real win-win negotiations can begin, the highly contentious issue of sovereignty must be settled by the parties. The Philippines claims sovereignty based on legality; especially the recent decision handed down by the PCA at The Hague. China, on the other hand, claims sovereignty based on history; that they discovered those islands and gave them names so they have sovereignty based on international law and history. Both side have good points, but “never the twain shall meet” – even if both sides negotiate for a hundred, nay, a thousand years! Hence, better for both sides to set aside the sovereignty issue for the rest of the century; making clear that both sides do not abandon their respective territorial claim so that no one will lose face to their respective constituents. Once both sides agree on the issue of sovereignty, then the genuine “win-win talks” can begin.
What is a “WIN” for the Philippines? This consists of five basic items comprising Philippine core interests:
- Joint development, environment protection and exploitation of fishery and maritime resources in the disputed area;
- Joint exploration, exploitation and development of oil, gas, and other mineral resources in the said area;
- Visa-free and cooperation in people-to-people exchanges and tourism development in the disputed islands;
- For China to include and make Manila as the easternmost terminal HUB of the Maritime Silk Road of the 21st Century;
- For China to support the development of the Manila Maritime HUB involving the modernization of major ports in Manila, Batangas, and Subic; development of the International Airport at Clark; a railway network north to south of both Luzon and Mindanao, to include Panay Island and Cebu; modernized telecom system (fiber optic networks and high-speed info highway); alternative energy development (solar, wind, etc.); and industrial/manufacturing zones in select cities along the railway networks. (China supported the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor with $46 billion. The Manila Maritime HUB can rival Pakistan’s Gwadar Port because a Manila Maritime HUB can extend the current Maritime Silk Road to reach Oceania and North and South America by reviving the ancient Manila-Acapulco galleon trade route).
Fears have been expressed about the Philippines, a small country, negotiating with a giant nation like China. I think it was Mao himself who said: turn a bad thing into a good thing. Being small, in fact, is our best weapon in the upcoming negotiations with China. The whole world is watching the unfolding drama in the South China Sea. This can prevent China from using bullying tactics against a small country like the Philippines. Surely, China is extremely wary of being seen perceived as a bully, for no small nation like the Philippines will ever dare talk to China again one-on-one if China forces us to get the small end of the bargain. Our negotiators should use our “smallness” to soften and eventually melt and win over the Dragon’s Heart.
SOURCE: http://www.gov.ph/2015/04/28/ph-mexico-push-to-nominate- manila-acapulco-galleon-trade-route-to-world-heritage-list/
What is a “WIN” for China?
To know what a “win” for China is, our negotiators should be well aware of China’s core interests in the South China Sea. Why did China build those artificial islands, three of which have 3-km long airstrips? And why is China prepared to risk war with the US and its major allies like Japan and Australia over those tiny islands?
Robert Kaplan, a renowned US geopolitical author and analyst, referred to those islands under contention in the SCS as a mere bunch of “barren rocks”, with practically no inhabitants, and of little geostrategic value; comparing it to the situation in Central Europe in World War I which was densely populated, resulting in some 17 million soldiers and civilians killed. Such military cataclysm, says Kaplan, cannot happen in the South China Sea situation.
China’s view is just the opposite of Kaplan’s. To the Chinese, holding on to those “barren rocks” may well spell the survival of the Chinese nation and civilization or their destruction. Why so? One of the main functions of those artificial islands with airstrips is to prevent a possible first nuclear strike against China’s East Coast where most of China’s manufacturing base and most of China’s almost 1.4 billion population are concentrated. US Ohio class nuclear submarines, each with 154 Tomahawk submarine-launched land attack cruise missiles with a range of 2,500 kilometers, each missile in turn armed with a nuclear warhead more than 10 times stronger than that used in Hiroshima, can surreptitiously and secretly approach China’s east coast from the deep portions of the SCS (i.e., the Manila Trench) and launch a first nuclear strike against China’s industrial base and population center. In just a few hours, if not minutes, the Chinese nation and civilization can be driven to extinction. This is the reason why China needs those artificial islands to monitor and counter any possible attack of this nature by US submarines or that of its allies. And China will surely go to war if those said islands, declared illegal by the Hague tribunal, will be taken militarily by force, by the US or whoever.
Another major reason for the establishment of those artificial islands by China is the prevention of any potential naval blockade by the US and its Japanese and Australian allies, or even joined by NATO, of the extremely vital Malacca Strait and other straits in the area (i.e., Lombok, Sunda, and Makassar). China’s oil trade with the Middle East and Africa and China’s overall trade in goods with Europe, the Persian Gulf states, and Africa pass through these straits. Effectively blocking such strategic bottlenecks can force the whole Chinese economy to grind to a halt. Hence, those Chinese artificial islands cum bases can prevent the US 7th Fleet and that of US allies from choking China’s oil and trade sea routes.
What then is a WIN for China? It is simply the maintenance of the status quo. China continues to hold on and develop the islands it is now controlling; and the Philippines also continue to hold on and develop the islands it now controls. (At the moment, China controls 9 or 10 of the islands; the Philippines controls 9 islands, while Vietnam controls 20+ islands.) Even if China controls a few number of the available islands in the disputed area, it is enough for China to satisfy their core interests; which is the prevention of a possible first strike by US nuclear submarines passing through the deep areas of the South China Sea and also prevent a potential naval blockade by the US and its allies on the vital straits surrounding SCS.
So a win for China is for the Philippines to agree on the current status quo: that both China and the Philippines continue occupying and developing the islands each country is occupying at the moment. This will put China’s mind at ease; free from worry of a possible first nuclear strike by US nuclear submarines secretly approaching China’s east coast from the Philippine deeps, or being blockaded at the Malacca Strait or other straits in the area.
Another major win for China (i.e., if China agrees to make Manila an important HUB in China’s Maritime Silk Road of the 21st Century with the revival of the ancient Manila-Acapulco galleon route) is the extension of the current Maritime Silk Road to encompass not only Asia, Europe and Africa but will include Oceania, North America, the Caribbean, and Latin America as well. It will make China’s “One Belt One Road” initiative (or the “New Silk Road”) truly a planetary-scale economic development that literally circumnavigate the world.
If this Win-Win solution is adapted by both parties, there is no more reason for continuing with EDCA. There is no more reason for China to put Philippine bases in the cross-hairs of their missiles. There is no more reason for the Philippines to be the epicenter of a battle between the superpowers.#
About the Author: A graduate of Philippine Military Academy Cl’67; MPA ’90 from Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; Brig. Gen. Victor N. Corpus, (AFP, retired) spent five years with the New People’s Army (1971-76); detained for 10 years under Martial Law and sentenced to death by musketry; but later became Chief, Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org