Briones: Elephant in the room

·3 min read

Let’s call a spade a spade, shall we?

At this juncture of our country’s history, we do not have the means to assert control over a portion of the South China Sea that we call our own and have renamed the West Philippine Sea.

Don’t get me wrong. We have a legitimate claim to the area. The Hague said so in 2016 when it ruled in favor of the Philippines over China. But here’s the catch. The United Nations has no police power to enforce it.

So we can rant and we can rave against Chinese incursion on our territory, but, let’s face it, that’s about it. Or we can compartmentalize our responses so that other aspects of our bilateral relationship with our giant northern neighbor will not be disrupted.

In other words, we can acknowledge the elephant in the room, and then we learn to coexist with it because it’s not going anywhere. In fact, the Chinese government has already constructed several man-made structures in the contested area.

Should we be outraged? Heck, yeah. Should we sever our ties with the country that is poised to overtake the US as the world’s biggest economy in a few years’ time? Heck, no. That would be bad for business.

Am I suggesting that we adopt a policy of appeasement? Well, yes and no. The administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has a difficult balancing act to perform between maintaining cordial relations with Beijing and appearing not to make territorial concessions.

We all know what happened when Great Britain bent over backwards to accommodate Germany in the late 1930s, going as far as to allow Adolf Hitler to occupy Sudetenland and eventually take over the then country of Czechoslovakia.

And I’m not saying that Duterte is in the same situation as Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who was trying to prevent war at all costs because the Philippines is not in the same category as Great Britain. And heaven forbid the country suffers the same fate as Czechoslovakia.

However, history teaches us that the weak usually succumbs to the strong. I’m not saying the outcome is inevitable, but that is usually the case. And I hate to say it, but if push comes to shove, the Philippines might find itself alone and abandoned by its allies.

So we have to come up with a diplomatic solution to the problem that is a win-win for both sides.

I’m sure China understands that the Duterte administration cannot appear to lose face because that will only fan anti-Chinese sentiments in the country. And we know that the Philippines doesn’t have the manpower and the military hardware to drive them away from the West Philippine Sea unless the US lends a helping hand although I don’t think the US is willing to risk a war on our behalf.

At this point, we’ll just have to live with the status quo and pray for a miracle.