When it comes to the territorial disputes between China and the Philippines, or any other Southeast Asian nation, in the South China Sea, that the former is bigger does not make it a bully. Nor does being smaller mean the other disputing party naturally commands the moral high ground.
Over the past decades, the South China Sea has become home to one of the busiest sea lanes in the world and the region has become a world growth engine. This is due in no small part to all the disputing parties having remained committed to negotiations to settle the disputes peacefully. That is also testimony to China never having tried to bully any other party.
As a matter of fact, for most of that time, China did not have the means to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity in the South China Sea from being encroached on by other regional countries, which had the backing of the United States.
That explains how the Philippines could exploit a chance in 1999 to intentionally ground a navy transport ship, the BRP Sierra Madre, on China’s Ren’ai Reef of the Nansha Islands, with a small crew living on board, in an attempt to create a fait accompli that the shoal and its adjacent areas belong to it.
Even though China’s ability to better protect its core interests in the region has been substantially enhanced in recent years, it has exercised tolerance and restraint and demonstrated a humanitarian spirit toward the “squatters” on its island by allowing Manila to supply them and rotate them, in the hope that the farce would come to an end naturally after the ship weathered to an inhabitable ruin.
However, that does not mean Beijing will indulge Manila trying to continue the pantomime it started nearly a quarter of a century ago by sending construction materials to consolidate the quasi shipwreck into a permanent foothold. That’s why the China Coast Guard stopped Philippine vessels taking construction materials to the ship on Friday.
Given the provocativeness of its actions, not to mention its reprobate ploy of a shipwreck for an island, it was absurd of the Philippine Coast Guard to issue a statement on Saturday condemning China’s “dangerous maneuvers” and the “use of water cannons” against its vessels.
In the same vein, the we-support-Manila statement the US State Department published shortly after the Philippine Coast Guard statement only served to show how the US seeks to exploit the maritime dispute to sow discord between Manila and Beijing and its high-handedness in acting as a judge ruling that the reef does not belong to China.
It is to be hoped that Manila can bear the bigger picture of Sino-Philippine relations in mind while handling the incident. As many in Manila have pointed out, the US is simply trying to push the country instead of itself to the forefront of a possible conflict with China.
Editorial, China Daily