[Weekender] China’s rising clout in Korea

[Conrado de Quiros] Dealing with God impossible

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Published : 2014-04-10 20:34
Updated : 2014-04-10 20:34

It’s astonishing how China, despite becoming the second most powerful nation in the world, continues to harbor a parochial outlook. It’s astonishing how China, despite heralding the wave of the future, at least compared to the United States which is in the throes of decline, remains trapped in the past. It’s astonishing how China, despite being in a position to become a shaper of the world, barely understands the world.

Nothing shows it more sharply than its response to our move to bring the case on the Ayungin Shoal before the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal at The Hague.

“The Philippines’ arbitration proceeding,” expostulated Chinese Embassy spokesperson Zhang Hua, “completely confuses right and wrong, distorts the fact and diverts attentions. The aim of its move is to cover up the illegal nature of the Philippines’ infringement and provocative behavior by the abuse of process against China, and to defraud the international community of its sympathy and support.

“The Philippines willfully initiated the arbitration ... ignoring the fact that the essence of the disputes ... is Philippines’ illegal occupation of the islands and reefs of China’s Nansha Islands.

“China has never thought of taking Philippine territory. It is actually the Philippines that occupies China’s islands and reefs. Some people believe that these islands and reefs are closer to the Philippines, and therefore they belong to the Philippines. This has no basis in international law ... (The Philippines’) real motive (in seeking international arbitration) is to launch a media campaign to smear the Chinese side.”

You don’t quite know where to begin to comment on something as crudely disingenuous as this. We ourselves may have a parochial outlook, may be living in the past, and may not understand the world, or care to, but it is nothing compared to this. China’s leaders seem to be inhabiting an entirely different planet. I don’t know who exactly Zhang imagines will buy his proposition, in whole or in part. Practically every portion of the quotations above defies reality as the world knows it.

To begin with, the Philippine decision to seek international arbitration on the Ayungin Shoal is merely meant to launch a smear campaign against China? Too late. You don’t have to do anything right now to bring China lower in the world’s esteem than it already is. It has managed to piss off practically every one of its neighbors, with the exception of Cambodia. As I said last time, China seems to have forgotten Mao’s dictum to never create a host of enemies at the same time, only one by one.

Over the last couple of years, it has made bitter enemies of the Philippines, Japan and Vietnam. Not to speak of the other Asian countries which sympathize with us.

And why shouldn’t they sympathize with us? It’s common sense. You work in an office and end up feuding with one of your coworkers, the fault could be his. You end up feuding a couple of coworkers, the fault could still be theirs. You end up feuding with three coworkers and disagreeing violently with everyone who sympathizes with them, you just suck.

China says it’s not in the business of bullying anyone, it attacks only when attacked. And the Philippines has attacked it by laying claim to islands which patently belong to China. That argument should apply as well to Japan and Vietnam: China is not bullying them either, it is simply retaliating for their attack on China by their attempts to claim patently Chinese territories as their own.

Do the Chinese officials have any idea how ridiculous they sound? Why should the Philippines want to spend time and money trying to ruin their good name, or claim to sanity? They’re doing a pretty good job of it by themselves.

Just as well, China says it has never been averse to talk and negotiations, it’s even willing to take up the disputes within the Asean. So long as the talk is ultimately bilateral, so long as the negotiations are ultimately between China and the individual countries protesting its land-grabbing.

Again, you have to wonder what planet the Chinese officials are inhabiting. Where on earth (quite literally) can you dialogue with one side insisting that the basis of your dialogue should be that he is right and you are wrong, and you should accept his utterances as given truths? Where can you thresh out territorial disputes on a one-on-one basis with one side insisting that you must first admit that you are the land-grabber and go on from there? Where on earth, or heaven, can you talk with anyone who insists he is God?

The last you see in that sweeping dismissal of the Philippines’ claim to the Ayungin on the ground of its proximity to it as having “no basis in international law.” At the very least, there’s the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) to disprove it. Unclos is fairly categorical about nations having sovereignty over land and sea 200 nautical miles from it.

At the very most ― and here’s the part about playing God ― isn’t that the very reason the Philippines is seeking international arbitration, so that it can bring international law precisely to bear on it? Isn’t that the reason the world, including China, should welcome the initiative, so the issue could be ruled upon once and for all by a council of peers? But, no, China says however the arbitration court rules, it will not accept it. Whatever the world court rules, it will reject it. What is that saying but, “I don’t care what you believe in, but I am the international law?” What is that saying but, “I don’t care what you think, but they are not my peers?”

It’s impossible dealing with God.

By Conrado de Quiros 

Conrado de Quiros is a columnist for Philippine Daily Inquirer. ― Ed.

(Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network)

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