LAST January 17 in Shanghai, the Philippines and China held the 8th Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) on the South China Sea (SCS). Essentially, the two parties have reached a consensus to bolster their communication framework pertaining to maritime affairs, which involves establishing channels of communication between the foreign ministries and coast guards of both sides, effectively handling maritime disputes and differences through amicable dialogue and calmly respond to maritime crises, with a particular focus on the Second Thomas Shoal (known as Ayungin Shoal to Filipinos and Ren’ai Jiao to Chinese). Consequently, both parties are committed to advancing tangible and practical collaboration in maritime matters.
Nevertheless, in an article published in the Global Times on Jan. 18, 2024, titled “With duplicity, the Philippines hotheadedly positions itself as the US’ cannon fodder,” the paper makes the following argument:
“Recently, the country’s actions and words have been filled with duplicity and complexity, but the trend is discernible — the Philippines is hotheadedly positioning itself as a vanguard, bridgehead and even cannon fodder for the US.
“Manila’s duplicity has been laid bare recently. On Wednesday, China and the Philippines held the eighth meeting of the China-Philippines BCM. Both sides agreed to enhance the sea-related communication mechanism, manage maritime conflicts and differences through friendly consultations, address maritime emergencies, particularly the situation on the Ren’ai Jiao, and further promote practical maritime cooperation.
“However, on the same day, the Philippine Defense Minister Gilberto Teodoro Jr. blustered that the Philippines was planning ‘more robust’ military activities with the US and its allies in the face of a ‘more aggressive’ China. Two days earlier, on Monday, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Romeo Brawner declared that the Philippines will develop islands in the SCS to make them more habitable for troops.
“Beneath this contradictory rhetoric, it becomes evident that there is no unified China policy within the Philippine government, Chen Xiangmiao, director of the World Navy Research Center at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, told the Global Times. Significant internal disagreements on the SCS issue have highlighted a behavior pattern of ‘the Philippines wants it all’: maintaining relations with China for economic interests while aggressively asserting maritime interests through provocative actions.
“The duplicity in the Philippines is also evident in its stance on the Taiwan question. On the one hand, it claims to support the one-China policy; on the other hand, after the Taiwan regional leadership elections, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos [Jr.] referred to the new leader in Taiwan as the ‘President-elect’ on social media. These contradictory statements from the Philippines create confusion, leaving uncertainty about its true intentions. In fact, the hostility against China by the Marcos Jr. government, under the encouragement of the US, has been evident for a year now, particularly after the beginning of last year when the US gained access to four new military bases in the Philippines. The recent speeches by the defense minister and chief of staff seem like a race to see who can be more aggressive.”
Coherence and consistency
I have no doubt that the recently concluded 8th BCM on the SCS between the Philippines and China, where the two sides had an open discourse, constructive dialogue and diplomatic negotiations regarding the complexities of the SCS dispute, represents a beacon of hope, carries profound significance, and marks a promising and positive step forward. This trajectory holds the promise of a more amicable and enduring settlement, ushering in a potential harmonious resolution fostering an environment conducive to sustaining peace, security and stability not only within the SCS area but also radiating across the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region and the broader Asia-Pacific, underscoring the interconnected destinies of nations in this vital part of the world, emphasizing the collective pursuit of peace and cooperation.
However, in the context of the Philippines’ current leadership under President Marcos, it becomes imperative to maintain a consistent, unified/common and coherent approach while avoiding duplicity in dealing with the SCS disputes involving China and other claimant nations. This coherence and consistency are essential to establishing a credible, reliable, sincere, trustworthy and authentic reputation that can garner trust and respect from neighboring countries in the region and beyond. Having a grounded and unified stance in the country’s approach to the SCS dispute and a consistent foreign policy, especially on crucial and sensitive regional and international issues, is really important for several reasons.
First, consistency in foreign policy helps build a nation’s reputation for reliability and predictability in the international community. For the Philippines, a consistent stance on the SCS dispute signals to other countries and international bodies that it is steadfast in its diplomatic positions and aspirations of resolving the SCS dispute peacefully, amicably and diplomatically. Second, a consistent policy stance on the SCS dispute provides clear strategic signals to other SCS claimant states, like China. It reduces the chance of miscalculations, suspicions and misperceptions that might arise from ambiguous, fluctuating or changing policies. Third, the SCS is a critical maritime route for trade. A consistent policy approach to the dispute assures international and domestic economic actors that the Philippines is a safe and stable environment for investment and trade. Fourth, Asean and other regional forums benefit from consistency in member states’ policies, like that of the Philippines, which facilitates cooperative efforts to ensure peace, stability and economic development in the region. Most importantly, consistent foreign policy assures the Filipino people that the current government is stable, decisive and transparent in its international dealings.
On another note, it is imperative for the Philippines to avoid being perceived as being duplicitous and inconsistent by regional countries in its foreign policy stance and approach to the SCS dispute precisely because it might undermine its credibility as a reliable partner in international relations.
Duplicity in diplomatic terms usually refers to a country engaging in confusing or cunning behavior or having a hidden agenda that contradicts its public statements or commitments, which could involve misleading other states about intentions or actions or publicly supporting one stance while contradicting in actions.
Trust is a cornerstone of diplomatic relations, and once it is compromised, it can diminish the country’s credibility, standing and influence in international affairs and compromise its strategic security interests. A firm, coherent and consistent approach to regional and international issues, such as the SCS dispute, can provide leverage in bilateral and multilateral negotiations, while inconsistent policies can weaken a country’s position in negotiations, as it might give the impression that its stance is flexible or that it can be coerced into concessions by a third country or external forces.
The recently concluded 8th BCM on the SCS between the Philippines and China is an unfolding diplomatic progress and improvement that carries profound hope and anticipation. While it is heartening to witness the Philippines and China engage in open dialogue and negotiations in the recently concluded BCM, the true measure of success lies in the continuity of this positive trajectory, where words are unequivocally accompanied by meaningful actions. As the saying goes, “Action speaks louder than words.” The sustainability of this diplomatic approach and the translation of promises into concrete steps will determine the authenticity of the commitment of both parties to a harmonious resolution. It is in this fusion of words and actions that the path to lasting peace, security and stability within the SCS, the broader Asean region and the expansive Asia-Pacific truly takes root, resonating with the shared aspirations of nations in this pivotal region.
Most importantly, consistency and coherence in the Philippines’ approach to the SCS dispute and in its foreign policy at large are not just about maintaining a principled stand; it’s also about having a more sustainable long-term strategy on crucial foreign policy issues that align with the nation’s values, strategic interests and international obligations, ensuring that the country’s strategic national interests are well-defined, advanced and defended in a complex and challenging international landscape and in an emerging multipolar world.
Source: The Manila Times