Part Two: Our Confused Foreign Policy
This series is of course being written for the continuing education of Undersecretary Carlito Galvez, his Philippine Military Academy mistahs and officials in our government who may not even be aware that a multipolar world is happening, as we speak as the era of American exceptionalism declines in history.
This is to emphasize that in order to safeguard our true national security, government officials engaging in polemics must be corrected especially if their statements are not based on realpolitik but paradigms marginalized by current events and an ideology foreign to our comprehensive national interest.
Insofar as international politics is concerned, we are not pro-America or pro-China or for that matter even pro-Russia. We must be pro-Filipino.
As Filipinos, we must be anti-war and pro-development of the general welfare of our people and the State as mandated by our Constitution.
That said, we must not prioritize on what is good only for the military, but wholistically for the protection and benefit of the Filipino people, especially those who cannot fend for themselves faced with the exigences of their daily lives.
So, when Galvez reaffirms in a recent Singapore event, “that multilateralism remains an effective strategy for modernizing collective defense, deterring aggression, and maintaining peace and prosperity — a strategy that can create a strong message that the Philippines is not alone in shedding light on the situation in the South China Sea,” he must be put in his proper place.
The multilateralism he was talking here is not native to Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) but to countries that are outside the region. Modernizing collective defense is even in the opposite of the time-honored value of neutrality and non-nuclear proliferation enshrined in two ASEAN treaties.
There is also no existence of any aggression to be deterred, except that which a declining western military alliance in the world led by the United States, perceives. That perception is what isolates Galvez and the Philippines from our closest neighbors, not the situation in the South China Seas.
Now if all his doublespeak is directed, albeit subtly, to paint as an “enemy” an ascending power, namely China, what peace and prosperity is Galvez talking about?
Lessons from the recent past
At this juncture I would like to paraphrase one of George Santayana’s aphorisms: “Those who are ignorant of history, are condemned to repeat its mistakes.”
This is no different from the American narrative that has caught us all in the dark as to why the war in Europe spread to the Pacific during World War II. As they the victors of wars wrote history, the whole world especially Filipinos who lost 1 million lives in that conflagration, was made to believe that it was Japan who was solely responsible.
One thing I learned in school is that a good student looks for underlying over and above immediate causes, leading to historical events. Most textbooks offer only a cursory explanation of Japan’s decision for what was in reality a pre-emptive attack on Pearl Harbor.
Jeffrey Heckler, writing for the Association of Asian Studies, said “While there is no single correct or simple reason for (it), this lesson should help students realize that Japan’s motivation for attacking Pearl Harbor was driven by its political self-interests, its scarcity of economic resources and perceived opportunity costs, and America’s embargo policy. It should also become apparent to students that long-term as well as short-term events soured relations between Japan and America.
There is no space here to enumerate the whole chain of events, but briefly, let me zero into his concluding point, “In 1940, America did impose economic sanctions on Japan such as banning the export of iron ore, scrap iron and steel in the hopes that such a deprivation might stop Japan’s imperialistic advance into China and Indochina.
“It did not work. In July 1941, the U.S. ended all trade with Japan and froze all of Japan’s assets in the United States. Great Britain, China and the Netherlands joined the U.S. in placing an embargo on oil exports to Japan. Japan was now deprived of several vital resources necessary for its economic survival.”
To make the long story short, Japan would have had a way out of its dangerous ambitions had the US given it a face-saving mechanism.
And was it really by chance, that all three of the US Pacific Fleet’s aircraft carriers were at sea on missions, surviving the attack and would go on to determine the outcome of the war?
We are not here to judge as to what was right and who was wrong, our point here is that war can be prevented if countries stick as close as possible to realpolitik, not propaganda.
This is why instead of a Department of War, we have a Department of Defense and a constitutional policy negating war as an instrument of policy. That is to say we are not to fan the flames of war but instead shout out to the max, peace and diplomacy as rudder for our foreign relations.
This is why I welcome the recent appointment of Gilbert Teodoro, a former congressman and once also secretary of defense under President Gloria Arroyo. Principally a civilian, he should exercise his authority tempering the testosteronic instincts and appetite for an arms race of our military structure, and use our military to dovetail our more urgent priorities under a post-pandemic recovery primarily food and health security, jobs and livelihood, and cheaper utilities.
Critical in these basic needs and towards economic growth, the role of Philippine-China understanding is essential, not for anything else, but because they are the ones closest to our kitchen, and its present powers, namely economic, is perfect match for our immediate and long-term needs.
The harbingers of derision and conflict, however, have been weaponizing our conflicting claims in the South China Seas to demonize China.
Using the monicker “West Philippines Seas” as handle and “What is ours, is ours” as slogan to promote pseudo-nationalism, our attention has been diverted since 2010 to 2016, and from February 2023 to date, denying the existence of conflicting claims by China and to unilaterally promoting hawkish interests.
In our bullheadedness, we even assert in a classic show of Filipino victimology, that we are the ones being bullied by China, capitalizing on its bigness and our smallness. Yet wasn’t it we who planted a time bomb in a greatly-impaired arbitral proceeding that its claim to the nine-dash line had no legal basis in order to provide foreign hegemons a mantra to shame China?
Patently Filipino, we engage in the zero-sum mentality our colonial masters left us by shooting the goose that lays the golden eggs, with whom we stand best chance feeding our needs for post-pandemic recovery and our opportunities for rapid and sustained growth.
And so how else can we untangle ourselves from this conundrum other than to attempt to learn about China’s legal arguments by going back to history? I am not even saying we take its claim hook, line and sinker, all I am suggesting is that in the interest of realpolitik, let’s check the facts to see where China is coming from.
On April 17, 1895, the first Sino-Japanese War came to an end, when under the rule of the Qing dynasty, Japan defeated China, forcing the latter in the Treaty of Shimonoseki to recognize the full and complete independence of Korea and to cede to Japan, its territories including Formosa (Taiwan) and the Pescadores Islands (Penghu) an archipelago of 90 islands and islets in the Taiwan Strait.
Earlier in January 1895, claiming the islands were uninhabited, Japan also annexed the Diaoyudao in the North China Seas renaming it Senkaku Islands.
The Second Sino-Japanese War began with the Marco Polo Bridge Incident of July 1937—a battle between the Republic of China’s National Revolutionary Army and the Japanese Imperial Army—marking the full Japanese invasion of China.
On September 1937, after claiming exclusive rights over South China Sea archipelagos, Japan occupied the Pratas Islands. The Japanese Imperial Navy landed on the Spratlys in December 1938, took over Hainan Island the following February, and landed on the Paracels on April 4, 1939.
As nations were in ruins as World War II was to end, representatives of 50 countries, including the Republic of China (ROC), convened from April 25 to June 26, 1945, gathered to draft the charter of United Nations (UN).
On September 2. 1945, World War II in the Pacific terminates as Japan signs its formal surrender to Allied forces of which China that was undergoing a civil war, was an integral part of.
After due ratification of its charter, the UN officially opened on October 24, 1945.
In 1945, in accordance with the Cairo and Potsdam Declarations and with American help, the armed forces of the Republic of China (ROC) accepted the surrender of the Japanese garrisons in Taiwan-including the Paracel and Spratly Islands and declared both archipelagoes to be part of Guangdong Province.
The United States called the Allied Forces to a Convention in San Francisco, literally to redistribute the spoils of war to its rightful previous owners. Because of the existence of two Chinas, however, ROC and PROC were disinvited. In what followed as the Treaty of San Francisco of 1951, Japan nevertheless formally turned over of most of the Chinese territories it invaded (with a few exceptions like Senkaku (Daioyu).
Significantly cementing that act, ROC and Japan signed a year after on April 28, 1952, the Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty (Treaty of Taipei), nulling all treaties signed by the two countries before December 1941 when the second world war started.
With this treaty, Japan returned Taiwan (Formosa) and Penghu (Pescadores) including Spratlys and Paracel Islands, to China.
Fast forward, at its 26th session in October 1971, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 2758, recognizing to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and promulgating the One-China Policy. That resolved, politically, legally and procedurally, the issue of the representation of the whole of China, including Taiwan, in the UN and international institutions. It also absolutely blocked any attempt by anyone or any country to create ‘two Chinas’ or ‘one China, one Taiwan’.
Japan and the People’s Republic of China established diplomatic relations on from September 29, 1972, and in their joint communique stated that the Japan recognizes that the PRC as the sole legal government of China and that Taiwan is an inalienable part of its territory.
Thereupon PRC legally became not just defacto but the dejure successor-in-interest of ROC.
These facts are an abbreviation of the Chinese claims to its legal and historical rights supporting its nine-dash line demarcation in the South China Seas.
In contrast, the defective 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration process and output is the only handle Galvez and the Americans have, are being used by them as mantra to fuel a disinformation campaign taking brutal advantage that most publics would not be able to read UNCLOS and the PCA award anyway.
But to assume UNCLOS (which took effect only in 1982) however superseded or precluded pre-existing conditions and treaties is a fallacy.
Being an issue of sovereignty, the justification of the nine-dash line, is found in customary international law, not UNCLOS.
Matters become worse when the Philippines stays in denial of the existence of a dispute or conflicting claim (altogether insisting what is ours is ours, or what is right is might) because in so doing we are invoking a no-way out but the force of war where might is right.
This is why I invoked in the opening sentence of my Book A Problem for Every Solution, “We have a common claim to the islands, and China has a conflicting position. In international law, this called a territorial dispute.”
Pertinently, the ministers of foreign affairs (Qin Gang) and defense (General Li Shangfu) of China have also clarified that China is willing to sit down with the Philippine counterparts to resolve through dialogue and bilateral negotiations on whatever issues that may arise between our two countries.
Counselor Dr. Ji Lingpeng of the Chinese Embassy has also struck a clear distinction that our maritime differences do not constitute the totality of our bilateral relations, but only a minimal portion of it.
So, let’s test their sincerity at the negotiation table mindful that war against an ascendant power, just like what Japan eventually learned the hard way in the second world war, cannot be won.
To be continued. Next: How the 2016 arbitral ruling diminished our position in the South China Seas.