China faces isolation due to sea dispute - analyst

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 19 2015 05:49 PM | Updated as of Nov 20 2015 12:38 AM

MANILA - China is facing increasing isolation from the international community because of its maritime disputes, an analyst and a international relations expert said.

For international relations professor Richard Heydarian, Chinese President Xi Jinping's icy red carpet walk during the opening of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders' Meeting was rather telling.

''Kapag makikita mo, medyo isolated ang China diyan eh. Nakikita mo sa body language ni Xi Jinping hindi siya masyado confident this year. Last year, very confident yung body language. Talagang feel na feel nila sila yung leader in the region,'' Heydarian said.

''This year, medyo umiba yung sitwasyon. Makikita mo si President Obama very confident - so much confident na dun sa main speech niya, completely climate change ang pinag-usapan niya. With the exception of China, more or less may consensus sa pagitan ng lahat ng South Korea, Australia, Japan na yung ginagawa ng China sa West Philippine Sea ay mali, na isa siyang threat sa freedom of navigation."

The APEC, once thought to be the uncontested domain of the United States, now finds itself also with an increasingly assertive China, which has been pushing for the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP) that could rival the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

This regular summit becomes a venue for economies with clashing political interests to cool down, find common ground and talk.

Xi is also reeling from the backlash against China from the maritime disputes it has been fighting with the Philippines.

The Philippines won the first round of the arbitration case it filed against China over the West Philippine Sea issue when the permanent court of arbitration maintained it has jurisdiction over the case.

''Ngayon na na-clear natin yung jurisdiction hurdle sa arbitration, ang Indonesia na rin nag-threaten. Ang Vietnam very prepared rin sila. China could face multiple countries filing arbitration cases against it. Class suit ang mangyayari diyan at nakakahiya yun sa China kasi China naman hindi naman siya North Korea or rogue state. China wants to be a leader in the region. Paano ka naman magiging lider when at least four or five countries see you as a national security threat?" Heydarian said.

The analyst also noted that China's rising unpopularity in the region contrasts with increased appreciation towards the US.

Another telling sign were the results of the many bilateral meetings President Benigno Aquino III had with fellow APEC leaders at the sidelines of the APEC, which has usually avoided geopolitical issues as it is a forum for the advancement of economic issues and free trade.

"Pagdating sa APEC yung issue ng West Philippine Sea most likely hindi siya lalabas sa final statement. Hardline yung position ng China na huwag natin pag usapan iyan," Heydarian said.

"Actually nagkaroon ng compartmentalization. Sa APEC, sa main speeches really trade and investments nakita natin yun. Si President Xi all trade and investments."

BILATERAL MEETINGS

Aquino's bilateral meetings with the leaders of Vietnam, the United States, Australia and Korea, were very significant.

The Philippines and Vietnam inked a strategic partnership agreement as they reaffirm their call for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

President Truong Tan Sang said in his joint statement, "This is indeed a historic event, marking a new era for cooperation between our two countries, while making contributions to the maintenance of peace, stability and prosperity in the region.''

Heydarian said, "Unang una malaking impact na security-related na bilateral yung Vietnam-Philippines strategic partnership agreement. Kung makikita mo yung provisions ng agreement na yan, marami diyan paano tayo magcoordinate sa Spratlys kasi yung mga Vietnamese 21 features ang hawak nila, tayo ang hawak natin 9 pero hindi na tayo nagco-compete. Ang kalaban natin ngayon China."

For the analyst, the pact sends a clear message that the Philippines and Vietnam will not compete against each other for control of the Spratlys.

''Ang Pilipinas at Vietnam hindi nagcocompete ngayon sa Spratlys. Actually alyado na tayo at isa ilalim ng new strategic partnership agreement with Vietnam. Magkakaroon ng mas maraming joint exercises sa pagitan ng Coast Guard natin at Coast Guard nila tsaka Navy natin at Navy nila, then mag-visit more often yung Vietnamese submarines and warships dito sa Port of Manila and more magkaroon ng koordinasyon doon sa diplomatic and baka sumali ang Vietnam sa legal arbitration."

US President Obama has called for a halt in Chinese reclamation activities in the disputed areas even as both sides hope to implement the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

The US also announced the transfer of more military hardware to the Philippines.

''Sa US naman, malaki rin ang mensahe na nasend ni Obama because before nag-visit muna siya sa BRP Gregorio del Pilar, ang flagship natin sa Philippine Navy, nagpromise siya ng 2 bagong vessels, 70 million US dollar pledge, highest in the region,'' Heydarian said.

''Very clear yung message ni President Obama na dapat yung reclamation activities in the area dapat itigil na yan, hindi iyan in the interest of the region.''

Australia already has a Status of Forces Agreement with the Philippines but both sides also signed a comprehensive partnership agreement in President Aquino and Prime Minister Malcolm Turbull's bilateral meeting.

Aquino said he and Prime Minister Turnbull had extensive discussions on how to further improve bilateral relations, and strengthen cooperation and engagement on regional and international issues.

Likewise, they reaffirmed the importance of engagement and cooperation in the political, defense and security, law enforcement, and counter-terrorism fields, among others.

In particular, Aquino said he and Turnbull committed to continue working closely towards more substantive and meaningful activities between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Australian Defence Force to build trust and confidence and enhance inter-operability.

Aquino also met with South Korea President Park Geun-Hye. Coloma said that in the bilateral meeting of the two leaders, Aquino thanked Korea for supporting Philippine infrastructure projects.

To this, Heydarian said, ''Talagang nakikita mo sa bilaterals nangyari. Australia, Russia and South Korea, pati sila nag-offer din ng defense deals. South Korea napakamahalaga sila sa atin, sila mag-provide ng ating advanced jet fighters at nag-donate ng corvettes, frigates and other advanced weaponry, including rubber boats.

''With Australia meron na tayong status of forces agreement, meron na tayong legal framework kung saan magiging mas malalim yung ating kooperasyon with Australia and ngayon na pumapasok ang US sa West Philippine Sea, ang dalawang bansa na magiging mahalagang magprovide ng support sa US ay Australia at Japan."

The Philippines signed two agreements with Russia at the sidelines of the APEC Leaders' Meeting.

Aquino and Medvedev witnessed the signing of agreements on a joint commission on trade and economic cooperation and cooperation in combating illicit drug trade.

''Pati Russia na ngayon lumalapit siya sa China dahil sa mga krisis ng ekonomiya, pati Russia nag-offer ng defense deals sa atin. Actually, very quality yung kaniyang military equipment, mas mura pa sa ibang bansa,'' Heydarian said.

Aquino also met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Malacanang said that in that meeting, the Philippines thanked Canada for making the Philippines a Country of Focus, one of 25 countries that will receive 90 per cent of Canada's bilateral Official Development Assistance (ODA).

Aquino also cited strong Philippine-Canadian relations as evidenced by the dynamism of the Fil-Canadian community. Trudeau recalled his pleasant meeting with Pres. Aquino in Toronto last May and cited the tremendous potential for growing bilateral trade. Trudeau said Canada will support the Philippines' possible accession to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

UPPING PRESSURE ON CHINA

Aquino is expected to hold bilateral meetings with Japan and New Zealand.

Heydarian thinks that the meeting with Japan should also offer more opportunities.

"Kasi yung agreements sa pagitan ni Pres. Aquino at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ay ukol sa mga pwedeng ma-provide ng Japan na military aid. Isa na titingnan nila yung provision ng surveillance and reconnaissance so magbigay sila sa atin ng mga planes para pwede tayo mag-observe ng mga ano nangyayari sa South China Sea at yun ang unang unang maging military aid ng Japan since World War II. Napaka-symbolic din at mahalaga din yun," he said.

Heydarian thinks that the strategy now is really to up the pressure on China by helping the rise of a stronger Philippines which can be a deterrent.

"Pero tingin ko sa Japan at United States military aid ang pino-provide nila kasi gusto nila mas malakas ang Pilipinas. Takot sila pag mahina ang Pilipinas at walang deterrents, baka yung China maging mas abusado at magkaroon ng giyera. Baka maging desperado na ang Pilipinas kung ano ang mangyari. Style ng mga Americans at Japanese ay tulungan ang Pilipinas. Pati sila medyo pumapasok na rin sa eksena.

''Mahalaga ang nangyari at nakikita mo talaga isolated ang China kaya ang position ng China this year ay huwag natin pagusapan ang South China Sea at all kasi pag pinag-usapan ang iyan pangit talaga tignan yung situation. Sila yung dali doon,'' he said.

However, Heydarian admitted this strategy won't lead to a withdrawal of China from areas it already occupies. He said China should be prevented from escalating and further militarizing the area to enable it to hamper freedom of navigation and overflight.

''Ang stratehiya ng Amerika at allies niya ay iatatas yung costs yung embarrassment, iyung diplomatic pressure, iyung legal pressure para yung China mag-dalawang isip para hindi niya i-escalate further yung situation so sa tingin ko tanggapin natin masakit man yun, ang China hindi siya mag-wiwithdraw sa mga features na hawak niya. Pwede natin gawin ay iprevent natin ang China from further militarizing yung disputes from further deploying more and more military assets kasi kung nagpadala siya ng very advanced military assets, pwede na siya mag impose ng Air Defense Identification Zone, pwede na siya magkaroon ng kapasidad para i-cut off yung supply lines ng mga ibang bansa,'' he said.

"So ang strategy ngayon ay gawin nating lahat para mag-dadalawang isip ang China, at nakikita ng China ngayon yung pressure ngayon double, triple na. Ang Indonesia, sabi nila pwede sila mag-file ng arbitration case sa China. Vietnam, nagsign ng strategic partnership agreement with us. Sinasabi ng US na maging more regular yung freedom of navigation operation. Tayo naman, tuloy ang arbitration natin. Nakikita mo eh nagbi-build up yung pressure so hopefully - walang garantiya - pero hopefully, it will be enough para sabihin ng China 'anyway naconsolidate na natin yung claims natin sa mga isla na yan siguro pwede na tayo mag-cool down mismo, pwede natin i-freeze.'''