Manila stuns the world by standing up to Beijing

Soldiers in Philippines US Joint Training Exercise

Gone are the banquets extolling the “golden age” of Sino-Philippine relations that had marked the past decade. Instead, relations today have sunk to an all-time low with armed vessels from both states staking out Scarborough Shoal – a tiny atoll in the South China Sea that sinks at high tide except for one rocky outcrop – which both say is theirs.

What has caught the world by surprise is the refusal of the Philippines – whose most powerful warship is a second world war-vintage former US destroyer – to cave in to China’s demand to leave the atoll 220 kilometres west of Luzon, even if the face-off was described by former Philippine foreign minister Domingo Siazon as “between an elephant and an ant”.

Observers point to three main reasons for Manila’s tougher stance towards Beijing. Foremost was the sea change in Washington’s attitude to getting involved in the South China Sea dispute, Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms told the South China Morning Post.

He noted that last year the US announced that Asia would be the fulcrum or pivot of its foreign policy. “This places the Philippines in a geo-strategic role. Remember, the presence of US bases here gave the US a strategic advantage in conducting its wars in Vietnam and Korea.”

He added: “As China raises the ante, the Philippines has no choice but to strengthen US ties.”

Yesterday, in ceremonies marking the end of the yearly Balikatan military exercises involving US and Philippine forces, Manila’s military chief Lieutenant General Jesse Dellosa told US Ambassador Harry Thomas: “As we bring our shared history of co-operation into the future, it is paramount that we agree on synchronising our structured responses, protocols and mechanisms to scenarios and situations in areas of common concern and mutual interest.” Teresita Ang See, president of the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies and an influential leader in Manila’s ethnic Chinese community, believes Washington has encouraged Manila’s defiance. “I really see the US hand behind it,” she said.

The second factor was the belief by Philippine officials that China was bent on grabbing territory from Manila because of possible oil and gas deposits. “If we don’t watch out, Scarborough Shoal could go the way of Mischief Reef” which Beijing seized from Manila nearly 20 years ago, warned Lauro Baja, a retired Philippine permanent representative to the United Nations.

“We failed to take what I call aggressive action then,” Baja told the Post as he expressed regret over what had happened during his watch.

This lesson is not lost on the present government. A senior government official who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “This is not being bold. We are doing what any sovereign government would do when its territory is being encroached upon by another country. Any self-respecting government would do the same.” The official added: “The truth is, there’s nothing in the Spratlys [or Nansha islands also claimed by China] but coral and endangered beautiful fish. There are no oil resources there.

“The resources are in Recto Bank which China started claiming only after the previous administration [of former Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo] entered into a Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking with China in 2004,” he said.

Today, the administration of President Benigno Aquino is tendering 15 oil exploration contracts. Of these, two blocs were part of the area once covered by the undertaking, Energy Undersecretary Jose Layug confirmed. He stressed, though, that these were in northwest Palawan and well within Philippine territory. He said bids for both blocs would be awarded by July 31, despite China’s protests earlier this year at the inclusion of these areas.

Finally, two sources pointed to “cultural nuances” behind the current stand-off. Unlike former president Arroyo, who was very comfortable dealing with the Chinese, Ang said Aquino was more at home with the Americans. “He spent the best years of his life in the US. He will not exchange his hotdogs and pizza for siopao [steamed buns] and misua [noodle soup].”

Casiple agreed that both leaders had different perspectives on the Chinese. “Remember that GMA [Arroyo] had strong Chinese connections.” As a student, she founded the Philippine-China Understanding which pushed for diplomatic relations with Beijing. In contrast, he said, Aquino lived for some time in the US and the presidency of his mother, Corazon, was saved from a coup attempt by the US.

Raissa Robles
South China Morning Post

Categories: Politics & Law

Tags: , , , , , , ,

34 replies

  1. Reblogged this on Craig Hill.


    • Keep reporting on these important stories. I haven’t seen these in the papers I read. I was in the PI
      back during the Vietnam war and went to Hong Kong for an R & R during the Cultural Revolution. I’ve
      been following news from SEA since then.


    • The mischievous instigator’s role of “Big Brother” has once again reared its ugly head . . . never learning from its past mistakes & defeats in the Middle East or way back in its involvement in Vietnam & Korea. Dominance is no creed for peaceful co-existence. Co-operation & respect for others’ sovereignty should always be observed.


  2. Thank you for the wonderful post!


  3. keep us updated..


  4. Probably the most concise, factual and unbiased article I’ve read coming from a Chinese side on this SCS issue. Good read. 🙂 Thanks.


  5. Kindly check facts here. Currently the most powerful warship in the Philippine Navy is not a WW2 destroyer but a Hamilton Class Coast Guard cutter recently acquired from the United States. It is the BRP Gregorio del Pilar. A 2nd Coast Guard Cutter will be added this year which is the USCGC Dallas (WHEC-716).


    • Apologies for any errors; the information is received from Reuters. However, Coast Guard and Navy are possibly regarded as separate services.


      • Yes they are separate services… however I just want to let you know that the ship that faced off with 2 other Chinese vessels is a Philippine Navy ship (BRP Gregorio del Pilar) that was acquired from the U.S. Coast Guard which concurrently is the flagship of the Philippine Navy and at the same time their most powerful ship. Do your research and check facts. That’s your job as a journalist.


  6. Nice Article, im a filipino and i have been reading chinese news regarding this standoff and all i see are biased articles against my country. i feel that chinese people are misled by chinese news media. So far your articles are the most UNBIASED reporting coming from china. Keep up your good work, I hope chinese people will understand and not resort to violent means we are all asians and should work together. My country and China has a long history of friendship and trades and chinese trying to fled china during your revolutions often seek refuge to PH that we embrace with open arms such that some Filipinos actually has significant chinese ancestry. We dont want war but most of your chinese media are feeding false information that inflames the minds of your people.


  7. good read. it has keep me informed. thanks for the article. i hope they’d come up to a peaceful compromise/understanding to prevent an unwanted and unnecessary conflict between the 2 countries.


  8. So happy to have found this article – and so important that it’s here! Thanks for sharing it with the world…somehow maybe if we all do, people will start paying attention 🙂


  9. The surge of nationalism in China has its historical background. It is not against the Philippines but against the United States. China has a century of history of being bullied by foreign powers. As a result, China is now making every effort to enhance its national strength to avoid a repetition of its sad past.

    In spite of popular indignation, Chinese elite who run the country has the wisdom to refrain from resorting to war to resolve the issue. I have given a detailed account of their thoughts and plans in my post “The Mystery of China’s Restraint in South China Sea” on May 3, 2012. The development of events proved the correctness of my prediction.

    1. Using force to resolve the issue will set China’s image as a bully in the world and cause China to be isolated.
    2. The greatest mystery: China’s plan to establish an Asian co-prosperity sphere in Asia. As I have mentioned several times the driving force behind foreign affairs is national interest. The marine area under disputes between China and the Philippines perhaps has rich oil and gas that may generate proceeds that are huge for the Philippines, but merely substantial for China with a foreign exchange reserve of US$3 trillion.

    However, for China the establishment of the Asian co-prosperity sphere will bring China much more benefits. China needs natural resources and cheep labor from its neighbors for its further development and the huge Chinese market resulting from its further development will provide great opportunity for its neighbors. What China and its neighbors will gain from the sphere will be much greater than the oil and gas in the disputed area which only covers a part of the South China Sea.

    China will never be able to establish such a sphere if China sets an image as a bully and becomes isolated.

    On the contrary, if China and the Philippines find a win-win solution to the disputes, China will have an image of a great country that considers other countries’ interests in dealing with them. It will not only facilitate accomplishment of the said plan but also contribute to its successes in Africa.


  10. Reblogged this on oyiabrown.


    • I still hope and believe that the issue will be resolved peacefully in a win-win manner. Neither China nor the Philippines and United States will be a winner in a war. If any one tries to solve the issue by force, there will be eternal confrontation between the two sides as the loser will try to revenge whenever it is possible. A peaceful solution will be once for all.



  1. China reach in focus at U.S.- Philippine security talks « China Daily Mail
  2. The Mystery of China’s Restraint in South China Sea « China Daily Mail
  3. U.S. triples military aid to Philippines in 2012 « China Daily Mail
  4. Extra patrol vessels set to fuel tension in South China Sea « China Daily Mail
  5. China warns citizens ahead of Manila protest on Friday « China Daily Mail
  6. Beijing toughens stance on Scarborough Shoal « China Daily Mail
  7. Philippines on alert over anti-China protest, Beijing frets « China Daily Mail
  8. China criticizes Philippines on South China Sea protest « China Daily Mail
  9. Frictions in The South China Sea: Chinese Strategic Mistake « China Daily Mail
  10. Manila appoints envoy to Beijing « China Daily Mail
  11. Wealthy Philippine Chinese community makes Aquino speak about peace « China Daily Mail
  12. China warns ASEAN not to talk about South China Sea disputes « China Daily Mail
  13. Large military hospital built for South China Sea actions « China Daily Mail

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: