AT the first televised cabinet meeting there was a full-blown discussion of what the new government will do if a favorable decision comes out of the Hague. Critics of Duterte scoffed that the televised talk in the Cabinet was a breach of security. Nonsense. We can keep no secrets from China. Nor should we. Look like we have secrets and China will attack us. It is no secret that the Philippines is alone in confronting her.
ASEAN is worse than useless and the Unites States has said it will not take sides in territorial disputes. So for sure the Philippine will not gloat over China’s discomfiture and at China’s expense. Duterte has made it clear: he will consider all options soberly because even a favorable decision will not be favorable in a meaningful sense. No power on earth can enforce it. And the decision will decide nothing enforceable.
Our case merely asks for a clarification of Philippine right and not for a declaration of Chinese wrong. There won’t be a breath of suggestion that a punishment is called for which no power on earth on inflict on China. It is the second military power on the planet. And it cannot be crushed by the first without inviting self-destruction. It is a power with which we shall have to live—and at whose hands we will surely die, while our neighbors watch and offer to share in the spoils of a Chinese victory. The US is in no position to get into another, this time an equal war with a nearly equal power across an ocean.
Oh sure, there are large discrepancies in war-making capabilities—but on both sides. China cannot strike at the US mainland, the US cannot fight on the Asian mainland. Beyond a certain level of destructive power, it doesn’t matter how many more times one power can destroy the other.
Duterte has made it clear that he will talk to China after the decision comes out—and even before it seems. And it is right that he telegraphs his punches. He will talk to China if the ruling is favorable. He hopes China will talk to us if it is not. He prays that China will talk to us if the ruling is namby-pamby. Duterte wants to keep all our options open including those that haven’t presented themselves yet. That is why he is wise not to attend a summit of Southeast Asian sure-losers in a confrontation over the South China Sea.
With such paltry claimants as the others, we have nothing in common and everything against. If we must affirm solidarity it may as well be with China. We can afford to do that because we are separated from China by the stopping power of water: the South China Sea. On confronting China, our ASEAN neighbors want to pass the buck to us so they can measure China’s retaliatory power and decide when to strike—a separate peace with her.
Our ASEAN neighbors have land borders with China. Within 72 hours Chinese troops can be in any one or all of their capitals. As Mexicans like to say, Pobre Mexico, tan lejos de Dios, tan serca de los Estados Unidos. So we say, Pobre ASEAN, tan lejos de los Estados Unidos, tan serca de China.
But we don’t face the same threat from China as mainland ASEAN countries do. If the entire Asian mainland fell to China, our country and the only other archipelago, Indonesia, would be prime locations for investment and trade with a greater China.
Duterte is right. A favorable decision would be nice but only as a bit of leverage and a prelude to talks with China.