Ph Needs to Build, Build, Build – Not Burn – Bridges

May 21 2017 - Like it or not, the Philippines needs to have more friends in the global community, real friends who will offer real support in times of trouble, like a threat of war from China. And building bridges to other countries, instead of burning well-established foreign relationships, resonates well with the “Build, Build, Build” program of Dutertenomics.

Duterte has made it clear that he is not a war-time President and has no intentions of going to war with China, which makes building bridges and cementing ties with other countries the right path to pursue.

Strengthening ties with other world leaders, as the President has done with Indonesia’s Joko Widodo, and making friends with the legitimate global economic powers is a wiser thing to do than to burn bridges with America, the United Nations and the European Union.

China must stop its bullying tactics and show the world its actions speak louder than words by not threatening its smaller neighbors in the region with armed confrontation, considering that the supposed objective of its recently launched One Belt, One Road initiative is peace and prosperity for the global community. Yet it is threatening the Philippines—its avowed friend—with a military response if Manila starts digging for oil within the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.

The situation highlights the need for President Duterte to be building bridges and creating avenues to the global community by maximizing his six-year term to strengthen foreign relations. By taking this path, the President is also paving the way for the country to grow in its role in the global market. Another plus factor in this approach is the support of other nations that could rally the global community against any threat of war.

This year is a window of opportunity for the Philippines to do just that as host and chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) of the 2017 annual meetings as the regional bloc grows in economic scale and influence. Singapore will take over the rotating chairmanship of Asean next year, and Australia is hosting a special Asean-Australia summit in Sydney in March 2018.

Maybe it’s time other Asean member states—Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam—started rethinking their position regarding overlapping claims in the South China Sea, with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in mind. It seems a wise and proper thing to do to have the dispute settled in court.

In July 2014, China opposed a Philippine attempt at offshore exploration in the Reed Bank, which forms part of the continental shelf of Palawan, as invalid and illegal, claiming the area was part of Chinese jurisdiction. The Philippines ignored the opposition as the area, also called Recto Bank, was 85 miles offshore and fell within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone. The Department of Energy also extended the service contract of Forum Energy and Philex Petroleum Corp. to continue drilling in the Reed Bank until August 2016.

The government eventually stopped the drilling activity in February 2015. In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines, giving the country sovereign rights to its 200-mile exclusive economic zone and invalidating China’s claim to most of the South China Sea.

When threats of war are raised by one nation against another, other nations usually make public statements of support for one or the other, or that they are against any armed conflict as happened when the US threatened to bring war to the Korean Peninsula. China and Japan made their respective declarations of support. Asean, with the Philippines at the helm, even issued an official statement calling for peace.

Keeping old friends and making new ones would serve the Philippines well, making the path to building bridges to other nations not only the right way but also an important, significant and urgent thing to pursue.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

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