Bongbong May Be Sleepwalking Over Contentious Waters To Spark War

By Adolfo Quizon Paglinawan, Solidarity for Sovereignty

Part One: Stoking the Mythical West Philippine Seas

The myth that Presidents Joe Biden and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. are trying to make the world accept is summarized in this portion of a recent Nikkei Asia report covering his recent working visit to Washington DC.

“In 2016, an international tribunal in the Netherlands denied China’s claims to historical rights within its self-proclaimed ‘nine-dash line’, which covered most of the South China Sea. The U.S. supports the ruling and has provided assistance for the Philippines to exercise its rights in the EEZ.”

This first sentence has been consistently used since July 2016 as the mantra or thematic messaging of all propaganda used by the Center for Strategic and International Studies of Washington DC, their adjunct the Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute and all their paid talking heads and media echoes in Manila.

Ka Mentong Laurel has labelled them jukebox scholars. On my part, I call them geopolitical karaokists because I now believe that all the motions from January 22, 2013 when the Philippines filed for arbitral proceedings to July 16, 2016 when an award was made, have just been a grand conspiracy to framed this lip-synch of a single propaganda line. 

Feigning Arbitration

The first irony is the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) is not a court in the conventional understanding of that term but an administrative organization serving as the registry for purposes of international arbitration and other related procedures.

It is no way to be confused with the International Court of Justice.

Secondly, the Philippines registered for a private voluntary arbitration there that was not even an arbitration because the process engaged only one party.

[China did not participate primarily because, just like the Philippines acting separately, it had legitimately opted out of the compulsory provisions of the United Nations Convention of the Laws of the Seas (UNCLOS) after submissions to the UN Secretary-General for declarations on matters a state finds impossible to harmonize with its domestic or municipal laws.]

My colleague, Sass Rogando Sassot, says “in international relations, consent is sacrosanct built on the principle of equal sovereignty of states. Without consent, a sovereign state cannot be made to do anything. At the end of consent is the use of force.”

Thirdly and adding insult to injury, only the Philippines defined the house rules, paid for the use of the facilities, staff and supplies of the Peace Palace where proceedings were held, and selected the jurors and paid for their honoraria.

Fourth and most damning, the so-called arbitral victory declaring China’s nine-has line had no legal basis, was maliciously based on UNCLOS that has no jurisdiction in the adjudication of sovereignty claims.

Professor Robert Beckman of the Walsh School of Foreign Service in Georgetown University points out a sine qua non, or a necessary or indispensable distinction:

“Territorial sovereignty disputes are governed by rules of customary international law on the acquisition and loss of territory, not by UNCLOS.”

In short, there is nothing about the 2016 PCA registered-ruling that is cast in stone.

It is only a piece of paper, as President Rodrigo Duterte said, whose biggest victim, if I may add have been the Filipino taxpayers who forked one billion pesos to feign this mock arbitration.

Nine-Dash Line

I will reserve discussing historiography the nine-dash line in a sequel to this article. But I wish to introduce the topic by saying that it was the Republic of China (ROC), sitting in the United Nations, that demarcated the South China Seas on December 1, 1947, publishing a 1946 map showing a U-shaped eleven-dash line.

When Mao Tse Tung formalized the People’s Republic of China (PROC) after the Communists won the civil war in China in 1949, gaining control of the mainland as Chiang Kai Sek and the Kuomintang nationalists fled to Taiwan, the Chinese Communist Party-led PROC de facto inherited as successor-in-interest the earlier ROC eleven-dash line.

In the early 1950s, as a gesture of friendship to the communist government of Vietnam, two of the dashes in the Gulf of Tonkin were later removed at the behest of Premier Zhou Enlai of the PROC under a treaty, reducing the dashes to nine.

This de facto status became de jure, when at its 26th session in October 1971, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 2758, establishing the “one-China” principle undertaking “to restore all its rights to the People’s Republic of China and to recognize the representatives of its government as the only legitimate representatives of China to the United Nations, and to expel forthwith the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek from the place which they unlawfully occupy at the United Nations and in all the organizations related to it”.

Whether we like it or not, and even if China’s claims are based on historic and legal rights encompassing millenia, its graphic representation in the SCS is the nine-dash line. And today, using former President Duterte’s commonsensical logic, not only is China in possession of the area within that, but is enforcing effective control.

Thus protecting the area it believes it owns, it claims and it has demarcated, can never be attributed to “bullying” in the parlance of western media. The doctrine of China’s Peoples Liberation Army calls it “active defense” of its territorial sovereignty.

Fishing in the SCS for War

The arbitral mantra is now being coaxed to fish an incident to spark a war.

But the United States is in a quandary on how to give China a bloody nose. The lines it used in “sinking the Battleship Maine” starting the Spanish-American War and “weapons of mass destruction” in the extreme bombardment and occupation of Iraq, among others, have flaxed out into cliches used by hegemons.

The United States has started to lose all credibility in losing the proxy war, together with the NATO countries against Russia, in Ukraine. So, its dare to support Taiwan, in the event of an occupation by China, has not been taken seriously worldwide. China has raised the ante, saying it is willing to reunify with Taiwan so even to the extent of force.

There is absolutely no justification for the Americans to intervene if China reunites with Taiwan. Because under the One-China Policy, adopted by the United Nations and ratified by the United States, this is an internal matter. Taiwan is a province of China.

Besides, as of March this year, Honduras cut its ties with Taiwan and opened relations with China, leaving only 11 out of 193 sovereign states that still maintains full diplomatic relations with the island province, with the twelfth being the Holy See (Vatican City), which is only a United Nations General Assembly observer state.

Long promised and long-delayed

The Americans are now long delayed in its Pivot to Asia of 60% of its military presence, first announced by US President Barack Obama in December 2011 but it has found a nexus because Obama’s vice president then is now the sitting president of the United States – Jose Biden.

This takes us therefore to the second sentence of the Nikkei Asia report:

“The U.S. supports the ruling and has provided assistance for the Philippines to exercise its rights in the EEZ.”

Biden has used America’s existing military alliance with the Philippines to convince President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to accept $100 million to preposition facilities and supplies under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and a donation of at least three C-130H aircraft to the Philippines and coastal four patrol vessels. Two Cyclone-class coastal patrol vessels are already enroute to Manila.

The Manila line is for humanitarian assistance and disaster preparedness in tandem with modernizing the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

But the joint Biden-Marcos statement is unabashed in saying Washington and Manila will advance efforts to deepen interoperability, particularly through enhanced bilateral planning, information-sharing, accelerated defense capability development and collaboration on emerging security challenges, amid China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea.

Posted on the White House website, the statement significantly mentioned that the two countries also eye establishing separate “trilateral modes of cooperation” with Japan and Australia, the Philippines and US.

This is where our gullible president is actually sleepwalking into a clear and present danger of an accident that can spark a war.

A respected Chinoy from Binondo remarked, “The president is asking two former foreign invaders (Japan and the US) to jointly patrol Philippine territory against the aggression of a neighboring country whom we have not had any war since time immemorial.”

 I read three sinister motives for this joint patrol idea. The first is overtly preempting the Code of Conduct being finalized between ASEAN and China, a sabotage that Teddy Boy Locsin already started towards the end of President Duterte’s term.

China is willing to do joint patrols with any country that has a claim in the South China Seas. But it will never agree to anything that will give any other foreign country, any further access to the disputed areas other than innocent passage.

The second, therefore, is justifying an immediate access of Japan, Australia and US into the disputed waters through the Philippines.

With hegemons already inside the lions den, so to speak, the worst is yet to come.

The third is creating an incident that can spark a war against China.

President Biden himself had a slip of the tongue when he reiterated during Marcos Junior’s working visit that “an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific, including the South China Sea, would invoke US mutual defense commitments under the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.”

The White House is openly creating parallel expectations – “The leaders convey support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, noting that the conflict has adversely affected food and energy security in the Indo-Pacific”, enrolling the Philippines alongside the US and its NATO allies as the good guys, while subliminally projecting Russia, and now China, as the bad guys.

In February, Marcos Junior entered the maze by giving Washington access to four more EDCA bases on top of the five pre-existing sites. But going further into joint patrols in the South China Seas with the wrong parties might not give him a timely way out of tragedy.

The Global Times has already created a perception among geopolitical analysts that “despite President Marcos Jr. repeatedly stating an unwillingness to be involved in the competition between China and the US, the Philippines has been locked up by the US’ anti-China fleet, warning of heightened tensions in the region due to US’ destructive Asia-Pacific policy.”

Does Marcos Junior realize that the hegemons are setting him up to be the Volodymyr Zelensky of Asia?

To be continued. Part Two show more recent historiography regarding the nine-dash line and why the Philippine Coast Guard is lost at sea.

Adolfo Quizon Paglinawan is a former Philippine diplomat assigned to Washington DC and the United Nations in New York. Currently he is a broadcast journalist and the vice president of, and has written extensively about Philippine-China relations. He has authored three books – Prices include free delivery in the Philippines .  (2015) A Problem for Every Solution (P899) , (2020) No Vaccine for Virus Called Racism (P799), and (2022) The Poverty of Power (P999)  Text  0917-3364366 to order.

Contact:  |  FB@AdoPaglinawan





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