MANILA – Former Philippine representative to the United Nations Lauro Baja said the Philippines must consider the extent of the relationship between its traditional ally the United States and China before it engages the Asian giant in another spat.
Baja, also a former Foreign Affairs undersecretary, said although the US has obligations to the Philippines under the Mutual Defense Treaty, the emerging Southeast Asian nation must put into consideration the relationship of the world's two largest economies.
"China is not a weak nation anymore. China is not the China of yesterday, and even the US of yesterday is not the US of today," Baja told dzMM.
"The Philippines should take note that the Sino-US relationships is so wide, and US might not immediately come to the Philippines' defense in case of Chinese aggression. The US will also consider its national interests."
Baja made this suggestion following another spat between the two Asian neighbors over the West Philippine Sea. The Philippines earlier accused the Chinese Coast Guard of using water cannon against Filipino fishermen at the Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), located 124 nautical miles off Zambales.
The Philippines filed a diplomatic protest against China but the latter rejected it, saying it enjoys sovereignty over the disputed waters in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
High level talks
Baja suggested that the Philippines establish a higher level of communication with China to avoid further damage to the two nations' relationship.
"We must establish a line of communication between maybe President [Benigno Aquino ] himself and Xi Jinping China, or maybe between [Foreign Affairs] Secretary Albert del Rosario and Wang Yi of China," he said.
Baja said establishing a higher line of diplomatic communications will not weaken the Philippines' case against China that it brought before the arbitral tribunal under the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).
Baja said the South China Sea dispute is hurting other aspects of the Philippines' relationship with China, and that Southeast Asian nation must still engage China in talks even though it is firm on pursuing its arbitration case.
"The Philippines and China are engaged mostly on public diplomacy, through pronouncements by the respective spokespersons. In negotiations, private diplomacy is as important than open diplomacy," he said.
"At this time, the Philippines is no match to China. The line of communication between the leaders of the nation is very important especially on issues like this," Baja said, adding that the Philippines must avoid getting into confrontation with China in the disputed waters.
Malacañang earlier said the Philippines will go ahead and file its "memorial" or written arguments before the ITLOS in a bid to bolster its case against China.
Baja said the more important thing for the Philippines at this point is for the arbitral tribunal to rule that it has jurisdiction over the case.
"Under the statute of the tribunal, they can grant what they call 'provisional measures,' which means while the case is with them, they can bar China, for example, from doing its activities at Panatag Shoal," Baja said.
"But, of course, even if this is granted, I doubt that China will follow. But at least we asked and we were granted."