ABSCBN's interview with Professors Herman Kraft and Chito Sta Romana, and Atty. Harry Roque after the Hague's release of the arbitration ruling on the South China Sea.
Interviewer: What do you think should the government now do (beyond asking for calm and sobreity) in terms of relations with Beijing? How do we get better economic relations and attract more investments?
Herman Kraft: There are a number of things that have already been laid down in the past few weeks eversince President Duterte has came into power. That is the signalling coming from his administration that they’re willing to talk – that’s important. This has been welcomed by China. As Chito Sta. Romana mentioned earlier, we now see both sides welcoming the signals being sent by each other. Now, the question is, where does that actually go? If we say we are willing to talk, what do we talk about? How do we proceed with this particular issue? I think, we’re not really talking about negotiating the questions of sovereignty and all of the other sensitive issues that we have right now. We’re just talking about trying to normalize the relations with China right now, making sure that the tensions we’ve had the past few years has racheted down, basically. That includes toning down the rhetoric, for instance. But if we talk to them, there are opportunities where we might be able to (get some concessions or) normalize certain things. For instance, the question of allowing fishermen back into Scarborough Shoal. This is an issue which would be relatively easy to talk about and discuss. That’s precisely the point – start talking to them not on the issue of sovereignty. Start normalizing the relationship and trying to expand beyond the issue of the South China Sea or the West Philipine Sea. This means looking at the economic relations and other exchanges with China which were constrained by the tensions of the past few years.
Interviewer: So you think we can go back to pre-2012 situation, when Filipino fishermen had relatively free access to Scarborough Shoal without harrassment from Chinese authorities?
Chito Sta. Romana: That is the goal and that is what we want to achieve. But right now, (the arbitration) may give us the leverage and in a sense, a moral high ground, but I think what is really helping right now is the desire to have better relations with China. There is paradox in dealing with China, as we can see from how Vietnam and China (and the Soviet Union/Russia and China now) tried to resolve their border and maritime disputes. The harder you press China, the more you say you are not going to give up any inch of sovereignty, they respond in the same way until you have a border war. That is what happened to Vietnam – border clash, ten years of enstrangement and then the Soviet Union collapsed there was no longer any aid, the Vietnamese decided to have good relations. Good political relations made it easier for them to resolve problems. More so with the Soviet Union, Russia wanted to nuke China when they had this border clashes. In both cases it took, three to four decades, but ultimately there was a change of political leadership and political relations changed. The Chinese became more accommodating and they reached an agreement that was 50-50 – something that Mao would not have agreed to. So in a sense, now that have a new leadership willing to have a friendlier approach with China, it may help.
Interviewer: Looking at a regional level, we can say that this might heighten the dynamic with US and China. Is there a possibility that this will lead to military hostilities in the South China Sea?
Harry Roque: I can only agree with Chito, the best news and development for us is that we have a new administration. It helps that this new administration has made it clear that it sees a distinction between Philippine national interest and American national interest. So notice that after he (Duterte) had taken over, he did not take part in the increased attacks against China coming from the United States. Former administration might have seconded everything that the Americans said but President Duterte was absolutely quiet whch shows already a point of distinction between his administration and the past administration. Because of his readiness to repare ties, my clients are able to fish in the Scarborugh at least since Duterte took over. I don’t know if they will continue to be allowed to fish after this decision but they actually have been allowed to fish. The account given to me is that the coastguard is still there but they will just look at them, unlike before that they will prevent them and drive them away. So, believe it or not, even if his background is a mayor for 23 year and one term congressman, it appears that foreign affairs particularly ties with China appears to be the most promising aspect of this presidency. And judging from what the Secretary of Foreign Affairs said as a response to the arbitration, I think that repairing ties with China is not out of the question and we can take advantage of this decision to improve our bargaining leverage and we will come up eventally with a peaceful settlement with this dispute.
Interviewer: It is now up for the Duterte administration to enforce and make things work, how do you think should the administration do it?
Chito Sta Romana: Generally, the two pronged approach that I thnk the administration will use is, engagement and deterrence. You need deterrence, the alli
eance with US and EDCA, in case the Chinese militaray adventurism crops up. But you need engagement, as he is doing, to be able to talk to them to improve the economic and political relations. As we can see in what has happened in the past two administrations, GMA had very good relations with China but then it erupted with allegations of corruption and lack of transparency, and then after Scarborough, Pnoy adopted a very adversial approach – filed the case. It’s how to combine getting along with China and being able to stand up and discuss disputes. And this is where the challenge is. The pendulum is swinging but it should not swing all the way, you should learn from the lessosn of the past, on both sides, and now find a way so that you could combine engagement and deterrence.
Interviewer: Where does that leave the United States?
Herman Kraft: The main reason for the United States being more involved in the South China Sea right now is the challenge of China’s assertive claim of sovereignty over the whole South China Sea. So the freedom of navigation patrols and constant entry of American warships and planes over the area, are intended to signal the Chinese that “this is not an acceptable thing.” The award in itself is significant but the question is how China reacts to it. If China actually reacts to it in a more assertive manner, then it gives the Americans a reason to continue what they have been actually doing. Which presents the problem on how President Duterte will be working the engagement and deterrence strategy.