Manila, Philippines - Despite its posturing in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), China will eventually settle for joint exploration in areas over which it is squabbling with some of its smaller neighbors including the Philippines, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said yesterday.
Santiago said it has always been China’s tack to avoid direct confrontation with its neighbors, and rather work with concerned countries in exploiting potentially oil- and mineral-rich areas for profit.
“Basically, China has always been repeating that. It has always been in their fine print. Let us not bicker over territories. Let’s just exploit now the natural resources and let’s just have a method of sharing the natural resources,” she said.
However, Santiago warned that such agreements would not always be in the best interest of countries such as the Philippines.
Since China is likely to have greater technological and financial capabilities to undertake such explorations, Santiago said that it would be difficult for any partner nation to negotiate for an equal share of whatever profit is derived from such partnership.
“I don’t think we should be overly concerned about a military confrontation. I just don’t think this is worth a military Armageddon. I don’t think China is prepared for that,” Santiago said.
“The way they think is that we will eventually grow tired of this and agree to a joint venture with them. We will be happy that finally a solution is in sight but in the end, we will lose out on the share of profit. I think that is the long-term strategy (of China),” she added.
On the current standoff in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, Santiago said it is unlikely that an armed confrontation would break out.
Santiago said she believes China is not specifically targeting the Philippines in its menacing deployment of vessels in the area or in other parts of the West Philippine Sea, including the Spratly Islands.
“I don’t think we are the specific target of the Chinese. Their target is the West Philippine Sea and the other bodies of water where other nations have made claims. So this is not a specific China-Philippines encounter,” Santiago said.
“In the view of China, the Southeast Asian nations are merely surrogates of the United States, so basically this is a Chinese-United States encounter. They’re just testing each other because otherwise, these people have close economic relations with each other,” she added.
Santiago said China’s positioning in Panatag Shoal may just be a diversionary tactic.
“They do not want us to know something that they know. It could be that there are other valuable mineral resources other than gas and oil under this sea,” she said.
At Malacañang, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said concerned government officials have already received “instructions” on how to deal with the continued presence of Chinese vessels in Panatag Shoal. He did not give details.
“Let’s just wait as to what the government will do,” Lacierda said over radio dzRB.
Lacierda said they were not imposing a news blackout, but were merely keeping sensitive national security information from leaking to the public.
He said President Aquino’s order was that “any results would not be disclosed” since the meeting was an “executive session.”
“Whatever decision was taken, it cannot be disclosed,” Lacierda said.
More than 20 Chinese ships and boats remained in Panatag Shoal as of July 2 even as the Philippine government announced that it was lifting a fishing ban in the area this month.
Two Chinese maritime surveillance vessels, a Fisheries and Law Enforcement Command (FLEC) vessel, six fishing boats and 16 dinghies or small boats were still in the shoal as of Monday.
Philippine Coast Guard commandant Admiral Edmund Tan, in a text message to reporters, said they were ready to return to Panatag if given orders to redeploy, but there was none as of Friday.
The President earlier said the redeployment of ships to Panatag Shoal would depend on the weather. He said he had ordered a pullout because of bad weather.
He also accused China of letting the issue drag on by maintaining vessels in the area.
After being accused by China of making “provocative comments” on the issue, Aquino said it was Beijing which should be careful about making hostile comments.
The government declared a fishing ban in Panatag Shoal last May to replenish the fish stock in the area, but this would be lifted on July 15.
China had also declared a fishing ban in the area, which is just 124 nautical miles from Zambales and is well within the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
The Philippine position is based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
China also appears to be violating its own fishing ban with the presence of Chinese fishing boats inside the shoal’s lagoon. – Marvin Sy, Aurea Calica, Jaime Laude