By Li Hongmei
The Philippines has been playing an active hand in roiling the South China Sea of late. It has not only renamed some water areas as “West Philippine Sea,": following its President Aquino's lead, the Philippine weather bureau has adopted the name "West Philippine Sea" to refer to waters of the South China Sea in its official advisories, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also followed suit addressing the waters as "West Philippine Sea." The Philippines even sent officials to claim sovereignty on a disputed island and called on the ASEAN countries to form a "united front" against China.
The cabinet members of the Philippines have also fiercely lashed out against China, stressing that the U.S.-Philippine military cooperation "delivers a strong warning signal to China."
Philippine’s constant provocations are mostly “political stunt”, far form a real bite; but many people here in China advise that the country should take fitting measures to pay the Philippines back, as they believe it is necessary to prevent another country taking a leaf out of the Philippines' book against China.
As to some of the foul-mouthed Philippine officials, their performance has thus far been taken as an echo posture to Washington’s “Return to Asia” strategy.
But people cannot help but wonder how much the South China Sea issue virtually means to the U.S., and what is the true significance of the Philippines’ high-pitched claims over the sea.
First, it is an unwise move if it insists on playing a meddling hand in the South China Sea disputes. Some analysts take it risky that Washington would stake its prestige on a remote and strategically third-rate ally when it provokes a clash with a neighboring far stronger nation, whom the U.S. has been increasingly counting on to recover its dislocated economy, combat terrorism and shared challenges, and deal with a host of global problems.
A couple of months ago, Prof. Lyle Goldstein painted a doleful picture in the Foreign Policy magazine. He said if U.S. leaders heed his advice, they should shed most commitments in Southeast Asia, which he portrays as a region of trivial importance situated adjacent to an increasingly powerful China. He maintained that "Southeast Asia matters not a whit in the global balance of power."
When tense maritime stand-offs occur in the heated region, it is wise for the U.S. to avoid getting embroiled in the intricate disputes poisoning regional politics, in lieu of what it is currently doing: sowing discord or acting as an agitator in the flare-up. Otherwise, Washington risks a new diplomatic setback for the so-called unconceivable “gains.”
Meanwhile, with the progress of the China-ASEAN free trade zone, which was established in 2010, as well as policy initiatives carried out in both countries, China and the Philippines are embracing new opportunities for cooperation. In 2010 alone, China-Philippines trade amounted to 27.7 billion dollars, making China the third largest trade partner of the Philippines. Both are settled to work to double their trade volume to hit 60 billion dollars in the coming five years.
Hence, it is equally of no wit to play up the South China Sea issue in the world’s only economically dynamic region and at such a critical juncture.
The Philippines will never be so naive that it would sacrifice its vested interests for an intangible and unreal promise from Washington to counterbalance China.