Business before pressure
At 88 years old, Kuya Eddie is back, and when he says he wants to focus on tourism and fishing in his mission to China, he really just wants to take care of business—literally.
He is on his first trip to China as the special envoy of our motorbike-riding leader, Duterte Harley.
His trip is also the first ever attempt of Manila to explore the possibility of holding talks with Beijing on the raging dispute over huge areas in South China Sea.
Already, the former President of the Republic decides to go for “common interests” of the two countries. He tries to avoid the political and military pressure often linked with territorial disputes. He thus gives priority to some economic advantages for both sides in setting aside territorial claims to pursue business in fishing and tourism.
By choosing Kuya Eddie as the first head of the first special mission to China, Duterte Harley also seems to send the Chinese government a clear message: Look, we are giving you our most senior statesman!
In a way, in his new assignment as the re-summoned public official, Kuya Eddie now wants to don the hat of a statesman, and not really that of the military general or a politician.
At one time, you see, we were lucky to interview on radio the renowned China analyst, Jose Santiago “Chito” Sta. Romana, the award-winning veteran newsman who lived and worked in China for more than three decades.
News just broke out that the Philippines won its case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Netherlands.
According to Sta. Romana, the next episode of the running story on dispute between the Philippines and China would be what he calls complicated diplomacy.
In other words, the military guys are out! And so are the belligerent former diplomats and public officials.
In reality, according to Robert Kaplan, chief geopolitical analyst for Stratfor, a private global intelligence firm, the whole world has some major economic stakes in the dispute, mainly because the South China Sea is the “throat” between the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, and everything passes through it.
About half of global oil shipments pass through the throat, said to be three times more than the volume of Suez Canal, or more than five times the traffic of the Panama Canal.
The top shipping ports in the entire planet are also located in that throat, according to the International Association of Ports and Harbors.
More than half of the merchant shipping tonnage of the whole world, worth more than $5 trillion a year, also passes through that throat.
No wonder, countries with highly developed economies, like the United States, Japan and Australia, also showed alarm over what international media termed as the “new assertiveness of China.”
Well, this newspaper quite clearly showed it all with the front-page photo of the reefs where the Chinese government built an airfield and some other structures.
That is the same territory that became the subject of the ruling of the Arbitral Tribunal of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), which favored the Philippines.
Now, the “victory,” as some officials of the Aquino (Part II) administration claimed it to be, was just in time for the entry of the new Duterte administration.
And so the case drew Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, barely several days on the job, to the center stage of geo-politics, featuring the giant known as China, albeit labeled by some in mainstream and social media as the “bully.”
Yasay of course received some big time flak for his seeming lack of jubilation over the supposed “victory.”
Here is my take on that: When US Secretary of State John Kerry visited the Philippines in the aftermath of the “victory,” he called the response of Yasay simply as studied and measured sobriety.
To Kerry, the response of Yasay was just right.
The truth was that Yasay had a tough time in the 49th Asean Foreign Ministers Meeting in Laos.
From what I gathered, Yasay had to deliver his official statement before the Asean group even with the imposing presence of the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who became famous worldwide for his temper tantrums.
Contrary to reports, Yasay referred directly to the ruling of the Arbitral Tribunal in his speech —with Wang Yi frowning and all.
In his curt reply, Wang Yi called the ruling as a “set back” in China-Philippine relations; Yasay affirmed the Philippines had no choice but to seek the application of international law on the sea dispute.
In other words, contrary to what some instigators wanted Yasay to do, or even what they wanted the entire Duterte administration to do, which was to rob the court decision in the face of Beijing, the Philippine government did not gloat over the ruling.
For whether or not Beijing recognized it, the Philippines now has a strong legal stand for any negotiation.
Did we really need to crow about it?