More than two weeks have elapsed since the international tribunal from the Hague unanimously decided in favor of the Philippines in the South China sea dispute with China.
Much credit for the Philippine victory goes to former President Benigno Aquino who initiated the dispute at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2013. Recent developments in China, including from its President Xi Jinping, demonstrate that this victory could be meaningless and possibly counterproductive. However, President Rodrigo Duterte, in reaching out to the communist rebels in Mindano, and in urging alternatives to military action could pave the way for a bloodless military victory
As Filipino American nonprofit and business leaders who are deeply concerned about the economic, military, and political future of the Philippines, we believe that there is strong and growing sentiment for alternative peaceful solutions. Specifically, President Duterte should continue reaching out to China while avoiding a non-ultimatum effort to achieve what no international judicial decision is likely to achieve.
In negotiating with China, President Duterte’s objectives should be to develop long-term economic and political relationships with China that minimize the importance of the South China Sea disputes. For example, the Philippines and China theoretically should be strong economic and trade partners. China wishes, for example, to readily maintain its position as the second largest economic power in the world, and possibly within a generation to be as powerful as the U.S. The Philippines, in contrast, wishes to move from near the bottom of Asian nations in economic power to near the top, as befits an increasingly well-educated population.
Therefore, both nations should develop a list of mutually beneficial economic objectives, including preferential trade agreements that can achieve these mutual objectives only through peaceful measures.
Some argue that the U.S. would prefer that the Philippines rely solely on the U.S. for military protection and primarily on the U.S. for economic relationships. This is a strategy that could backfire, specifically for 110 million Filipinos who no longer wish to be pawns in a “cold war” stand-off between the two largest military giants in the world, China and the U.S. Increasingly Filipinos want their great nation to be able to effectively compete in the near future with China, Japan, Vietnam, and other increasingly strong and independent Asian nations. They want to compete in economic development, job creation, international trade, and in independence from the agenda of any other nation, even when its agenda appears benign.
To support President Duterte in his efforts for long-term peaceful resolutions with China, we urge as a first step that America’s four million Filipino Americans follow in part the longstanding principles of America’s five million Jews in generally supporting Israel’s independence. Specifically, we urge the formation of a Committee of 25 representative Filipino Americans who will generate support for President Duterte’s peaceful efforts. This is essential despite the clamor of some that he declare a legal victory over China and seek to enforce what we believe to be an elusive gambit.
Our dream and expectations are that under President Duterte’s leadership that we follow peaceful and patient practices while maintaining both the U.S. and China as major allies who strongly compete for our allegiance and respect. Should this occur, the Philippines will no longer be faced with being ignored, both in Asia and throughout the world.
We have the ability and the potential, particularly in a world where both China and Japan are desperately seeking to find new workers in the future, to be one of Asia’s strongest nations and economies. And we can do so without military aggression or engaging in unnecessary verbal assaults and challenges.