We will lose all of the West Philippine Sea
By Andrew Lim
President Duterte does not understand leverage
Don’t blink, the entire West Philippine Sea and its resources will soon be gone. China’s nine-dash line map will be applied, and the fruit of Duterte’s pivot will be economic concessions that may appear substantial on surface but are actually a miniscule percentage of the value of what we will be giving up.
It will be a lopsided trade-off, with the Philippines on the losing end. And it will be irreversible.
A word we first encounter in school – leverage.
The West Philippine Sea, its air and sea routes and its resources is not leverage – it is the prize; the pot at the end of the rainbow. It is what all the nations embroiled in this issue want to access.
Leverage is economic might, military might, technological prowess, court rulings, world opinion, strong alliances – what you can use to improve your position as you negotiate to protect your interests – in this case the West Philippine Sea.
Duterte does not have much of it; China has all of it. The arbitral ruling is leverage only if you do not go bilateral. The military alliance with the US is leverage, but Duterte chooses to side with China and drive the US away.
Duterte has drum beat “independent foreign policy”. But he seeks money from China at every turn these days – from drug rehab facilities to railways in Mindanao to development money for Basilan.
(A side note on how outdated Duterte is on foreign policy aside from mistaking the FA-50 aircraft as coming from the US instead of South Korea: in a recent speech, he made reference to the submarine-launched ballistic Poseidon missiles of the US in case World War 3 breaks out. Poseidon was phased out long ago in the early nineties and replaced with the Trident missile system.)
Duterte is indeed a “provincial executive” as described by former President Ramos.
Duterte is mad at drugs. He is mad at the US and the West for its concern on human rights but what does he do? He runs to China and Russia, egregious in its own human rights violations, suppression of dissent and use of drugs (for foreign policy, Olympic doping).
Principles do matter, no matter the contradictions you see in a country’s history.
China’s assistance in the construction of drug rehab facilities actually makes it an end to end, seamless integrated operation for them since there is evidence that the Chinese government, through its intelligence services, is covertly supporting the manufacture of illegal drugs in its territory.
Knowing Duterte’s mad man attitude to drugs, they can calibrate the flow of drugs into the country, depending on how cooperative we are with the resources of the West Phililippine Sea.
When Duterte complains that “all the big fish are in China”, the Chinese are probably nodding, “and we supervise them, too.”
The business concessions Duterte will likely bring home after his visit to Beijing – opening of the Chinese market to fruit exports, investments, railways for Mindanao, allowing Filipino fishermen to go back may look huge but it is extremely, extremely small compared to the economic value of the West Phil sea. Even if you peg the potential increased Chinese business ties in billions, the West Philippine Sea is still much much more than that. It is multiples of that.
Needless to say, business ties benefit both parties. But the West Philippine Sea is ours, and it rightfully, wholly belongs to us alone. The aquatic resources are renewable and capable of benefitting several generations of Filipinos.
Business ties with China can be cut abruptly, if relations turn sour. But once China starts exploiting the area for its resources, it cannot be reversed anymore, short of declaring a shooting war.
At the outset, China will play the nice guy, rolling out the red carpet – facilitate business to business partnerships, soft loans, infrastructure projects; it might even roll up a few illegal drug manufacturers to show its support for Duterte’s obsession with the drug wars.
At the right point in time in the future, (say after 2-3 years) China will then turn the screws on us, applying the nine-dash line map, and start exploitation of the West Philippine Sea. When this point arrives, the Philippines will have absolutely no more leverage to contest, oppose or reverse whatever China wants to do. The arbitral ruling is no more; nor is the alliance with the West.
Where does Duterte turn at this point? Can he rely on China’s sense of fairness and equity to obtain our just share? At this point, who dictates what?
China is wrapping Duterte and the country around its finger, deftly calibrating all its options to leverage its position- and Duterte, (egged on by local Maoists he has empowered via appointments to the Cabinet and a peace negotiation that will likely benefit the Maoists more) is powerless to counter it.
Duterte, for all his bluster and big words, is actually enabling China to get all that its dark heart desires, and the losers will be the entire Filipino nation and the generations to come. Duterte is brutal with the Filipino people, but he cannot touch the Chinese.
Say goodbye to the West Philippine Sea.