Resolve the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea Territorial Disputes Through Realpolitik

It seems that professors of politics and foreign relations from an esteemed institution of learning, in coming up with their joint statement regarding the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea territorial disputes, have forgotten the basic principle that governs geopolitics and politics, in general- realpolitik, which is a system or principle that is based on practical considerations rather than those that are moral or ideological.

To start with, they seem to be too fixated on China when the truth is that the South China Sea territorial disputes involve China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines. Sure, they want China to be "dealt with accordingly" for its "hegemonic intentions" and "aggression" but once they do that, the other claimant-states will start behaving in the same fashion. When that happens, the situation will only become more complex, with the Philippines, the weakest among them, no thanks to non-investment in external and internal defense capabilities and economic development by the post-Ferdinand Marcos administrations, ending up losing more than what it already lost to China (Mischief Reef in 1995, Scarborough Shoal in 2012-2013) and Vietnam (Southwest Cay/Pugad Island in 1975) in the past.

Second, the professors are advocating for the Philippines taking a belligerent stance towards China, which seems to be a product of their Cold War-era line of thinking, with the United States and the rest of the West being the "forces of good" while China and Russia are the "epitome of evil." They seem to forget the effects of the belligerent stand that the Philippines took during the time of President Benigno Aquino III, which resulted to economic losses in the form of banana exports being denied a huge market in China and other Philippine exporters being a hard time by their Chinese counterpart. It is only when President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office that bananas and other Philippine exports regained a foothold in the Chinese market because of a different approach to the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea territorial disputes that he and his administration took.

Third, it seems that they are suggesting that the Duterte administration is not doing anything to assert the interests of the Philippines towards China and other claimant-states. If that is the case, they have been blinded by either their partisan biases, which is against the incumbent administration, or their Sinophobia, for they see anything and everything that is China or Chinese as evil incarnate. The truth of the matter is that President Duterte, in keeping with his agenda of pursuing an independent foreign policy during his term as Chief Executive, veered away from the harmful belligerent stance that corresponds to the position being taken by the United States, the former colonial master of the Philippines, and instead pushed for rapprochement towards China. Through a different approach, both countries decided that the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea territorial disputes are matters that can be set aside and discussed at a different time and the proper venue and instead work together on efforts that are of mutual interest to them such as economic development and cooperation, and, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.

Duterte's rapprochement towards China resulted to not only bananas and Philippine exports regaining entry into the Chinese market after being denied the same during the administration of his predecessor. Chinese investments in the Philippines grew significantly, resulting to the creation of new job and business opportunities for Filipinos. The "Build, Build, Build" infrastructure building drive also got a boost from China, with new bridges spanning the Pasig River in Manila and the boundary of Makati and Pasig, and the Subic-Clark railway being among the projects being given support. The Marawi siege also saw the Chinese, along with the Russians, giving badly needed weapons and equipment to the Armed Forces of the Philippines to help fight terrorists who occupied the Mindanaoan city, which came at a time when the United States denied repeated requests from the Philippines for the immediate approval of its requests for weapons and equipment sales, and excess defense articles donations. The COVID-19 pandemic also saw China extending a helping hand to the Philippines, with personal protective equipment (PPE), face masks and other badly needed supplies being sent by the Chinese to during the early days of the pandemic, and a combination of donated and approved for sale to the Philippine government supplies of Sinovac Coronavac COVID-19 vaccine now being used to vaccinate medical front-liners, senior citizens and other Filipinos.

How can the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea territorial disputes be resolved? It is not through the approach being advocated by the Political Science and International Studies professors of De La Salle University but by one that is based entirely on realpolitik akin to how the Philippines and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) came together to help resolve the pressing issues in Myanmar. The ASEAN member-nations, where four of the six claimant-states belong, and China should, without any involvement from outsiders such as the United States, come together and to discuss the formulation and implementation of a Code of Conduct that will be abided by all signatory nations. At the same time, the countries involved can also set aside the disputes for the meantime while they work together on more worthy ventures, especially at this time when the COVID-19 pandemic is plaguing much of the region.

I sincerely hope that the professors would rethink their position, come to their senses and put more value on realpolitik instead of causing their scholarship to be clouded by their partisan and racial biases, and Cold War-era line of thinking.


About the Author
Benedict is an agricultural economist, academician and writer. He has gained experience and expertise in various fields of economics, business, political science and public relations after through professional ventures in the academe, and in the public and private sectors. He has authored or co-authored key publications on topics ranging from agriculture and food security to global affairs and politics.
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