Facing the Bully
Published by the Visayan Daily Star Publications, Inc.
|NINFA R. LEONARDIA|
Editor-in-Chief & President
NIDA A. BUENAFE
MAJA P. DELY
ANTONIO L. LEONARDIA|
The Philippines remains locked in a stalemate with China over a disputed shoal in the South China or West Philippine Sea, where a Philippine Navy warship was prevented by Chinese civilian surveillance vessels from arresting Chinese fishermen who were found to have been conducting illegal poaching activities in those waters. The warship was pulled out from the area to defuse the rising tension and the Chinese fishing vessels laden with their illegal catch escorted by two surveillance ships soon left as well. However there are reports that a Chinese vessel has returned and Chinese aircraft have been making flybys over the lone Philippine coast guard ship that has stayed behind to monitor the activity in the area.
As the situation at the Scarborough shoal remains testy, with China's increasingly aggressive stance as it asserts its dubious claim over an area that is just 124 miles from Zambales, the scheduled Balikatan exercises which will involve more than 6,000 Filipino and US soldiers in 12 days of exercises across the Philippines, begins this week with some of the drills to be held just off the western coast of Palawan in waters facing the disputed area. While Malacañang was quick to say that the joint exercises are not meant to provoke the regional bully, the presence of US soldiers and equipment will not have escaped Chinese notice, and it remains to be seen if the joint military exercises will benefit the Philippines or make matters worse when it comes to this particularly sensitive territorial dispute with our powerful neighbor.
Anyone who has experience with a bully knows that if you don't stand up to them, they will step all over you and take everything you have. If the bully is bigger and more powerful, then it helps to have them think that you have powerful friends. The Balikatan exercises may not be a provocative act, but we are fortunate that the timing is just right as this is the kind of activity that can make any bully think twice. And while China is thinking, our government officials should be working double time in the pursuit of diplomatic solutions to this problem. This should include tapping the support of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in calling for the halt of illegal activities in the area and a civilized resolution to the dispute.*