Miyerkules, Hunyo 6, 2012

‘We don’t want a new Cold War in the Asia Pacific’

RP's former 5-time Speaker Joe de Venecia speaks before an international forum

Statement of Former Speaker Jose de Venecia, Founding Chairman of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP)
On His Speech and  Meetings Last Week in Beijing
June 3, 2012

For the United States, its military presence on the peripheries—the outer limitsof the Chinese mainland may be a kind of “forward defense.” Since the nineteenth century, American strategists have feared that it is from Asia that an invasion of the US mainland would threaten. The Japanese and World War II justified that fear.
          But, for the Chinese, the US presence so closed to its exposed industrial hinterland is a vestige of colonialism; a trace of the ‘humiliation’ the Chinese suffered from the great powers for 150 years including several “unequal treaties.”
          Hence, the regional crisis over contested South China Sea islets involving principally China, Vietnam and the Philippines is likely to become more serious and more protracted than we—as Southeast Asian participants and bystanders—may expect.
          And our individual states should not have to choose between the great powers—because we want no new Cold War in the Asia Pacific.
          These are my key conclusions from a series of meetings with senior Chinese officials, this year and last week in Beijing,  with the minister and two vice ministers of the Communist Party of China, former senior officers of the People’s Liberation Army, leaders of civil society organizations who are officials of the Chinese parliament, former high-rank  diplomats and academics, on the sidelines of an international dialogue sponsored by the Chinese Association for International Understanding (CAFIU).
I also had extended conversations with Deputy Foreign Minister Fu Ying, their highly regarded lady diplomat, who seems to be coordinating Chinese policy in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) as our able Secretary Alberto del Rosario and Undersecretary Linda Basilio are coordinating Philippine action.    

AFP Modernization: Unrelated to Spratlys

I candidly informed her that the new steps of President Benigno Aquino III, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to upgrade the Philippine Armed Forces is one of high priority, since the AFP has perhaps the poorest equipment among armed forces in Southeast Asia, and the program is of long standing, unrelated to the disputes in the sea.

We should not have to choose between the great powers

Before officials and civil society leaders from Asia, Europe, North America and Africa, the message I brought on behalf of ICAPP—the International Conference of Asian Political Parties, ruling and opposition parties, made up of 318 member-parties from 52 Asian states— and on behalf of CAPDI, an alliance of political parties and civil society organizations, that East Asia’s greatest shared need is to preserve the bubble of stability that has made our region the fastest growing in the world.
          For us, the age of ideological conflict is over. All our countries need to move beyond containment and confrontation toward cooperation and mutual prosperity in their foreign relations. We should not have to choose between the great powers. There are actually more overriding issues that unite China and the U.S. than divide them.
          I cited the Joint Statement of President Hu Jintao and President Barack Obama of January 2011 as offering the two sides a basis for rebuilding their historical ties.
          In that declaration, the two leaders affirmed that the United States welcomes a strong, prosperous, and successful China that plays a greater role in world affairs; and China welcomes the United States as an Asian-Pacific nation that contributes to peace, stability, and prosperity in the region.
          I believe this should also be the policy of the Philippines and ASEAN in dealing with the two leading global powers, the U.S. and China.

Set aside issue of sovereignty to explore Sea jointly; Designate Fisheries Corridors

Specifically to resolve the conflicting claims to the Spratlys, I proposed joint exploration and development by the claimant states of the disputed area’s drilling of oil-gas and mineral resources; and the designation of “fisheries corridors” that our fishing fleets may exploit in an orderly and sustainable manner, and prevent tensions, illegal fishing, and arrests in the sea.
          To prevent conflicts between rival claimants, I invoked the formula of Chinese statesman Deng Xiaoping, who was responsible for China’s emergence as a major economic power, who advocated in 1987  “shelving the issue of sovereignty,” in dealing with issues in the China Sea.
        Initially, this approach would involve an agreement on an oil-and-gas drilling program, equitably sharing the profits of production before finally demilitarizing the disputed islets through the phased withdrawal of armed garrisons which demilitarization I proposed in 1987. At the end of this process, we will have converted a zone of conflict into a  binding Zone of Peace, Friendship, Cooperation, and Development.

Loss of Sabah

          Yes, it is a correct step to take the rules-based approach and bring the maritime dispute to the International Tribunal of the Law of the Seas (ITLOS) if China agrees. But what if China does not? Witness that to all intents and purposes, we have practically lost Sabah to Malaysia, a much, much bigger contested asset, because Malaysia refused to join the Philippines in bringing the Sabah claim to the International Court of Justice for decision. 

North Sea, Caspian Sea Development

          I informed delegates to the conference how envious we are that pragmatic, negotiated geo-political settlements led to successful oil-and-gas development programs among European powers in the North Sea, hydro-carbon riches benefitting the Central Asians and Eurasians in the Caspian Sea, and joint sharing  of oil and gas revenues between Australia and tiny East Timor in their contested waters.

Recovery of lost territories is an emotional issue

From my conversations, I sensed that, for the Chinese, the recovery of ‘lost territories’ during the ‘period of weakness’ remains a highly emotional issue. Since 1950, China has used force to defend its periphery 30 times. These conflicts included ‘border wars’ against the United States and U.N. forces (the Korean War), France (on behalf of Vietnam), India in the Himalayas, Russia in the Ussuri river border conflict in 1969 and Vietnam (a border war in 1979 and two naval encounters, in 1974 and 1988.)

Mutual Withdrawal in June; Beware the storms of July

On the Scarborough Shoal (Panatag), as a practical solution, I proposed that both sides consider pulling out their Coast Guard or government vessels, fishing boats and auxiliaries, from the Scarborough Shoal from June 1 to June 10, in a slow, without fanfare, simultaneous mutual disengagement, so nobody loses face, to be completed preferably not later than June 9 – 10 (37th anniversary of the start of Philippine-Chinese diplomatic relations).  Or, if adjustments are needed, the same should be quietly completed thereafter , after a few days, as the severe storms of July would in any case drive out the ships of both sides out of Scarborough Shoal. I reminded  our Chinese and Filipino friends that following  bitter historic debates, it was  Mother Nature, the volcano Mt. Pinatubo, that finally drove out the American military bases in Clark and Subic.

The Multilateral or Bilateral Approach
On the issue of whether China and the Philippines should resolve the dispute between them in bilateral or multilateral negotiations, the Chinese have pointed out that they successfully resolved their land border conflicts with Russia and Vietnam in bilateral, not multilateral negotiations and  are continuing their bilateral talks with India on the Himalayan positions.  Let us also talk to Malaysia and Brunei, the other claimants, who have not disputed strongly with China.
Today, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Pakistan, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia, the Central Asians,  Africans and Latin Americans have major economic joint-ventures with China, drawing on huge Chinese investments in energy, natural resources, infrastructure and tourism.
Before we turn down the bilateral approach, let us talk to the other claimants, and we ourselves, should talk directly to the Chinese, at first in informal bilateral negotiations, listen to their proposal on the settlement of the dispute. We may find our positions not too far apart.
        Yes, in my view, our leaders should take the greatest care in charting policy on the complex South China Sea issue. What is at stake for our people may not merely be barren rocks, some of which are submerged at high tide.#

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