MANILA, JUNE 11, 2012 (PHILSTAR) FROM A DISTANCE By Carmen N. Pedrosa  (photo) If our leaders want to do what is best for our country, we should make the best use of our foreign relations, whether it is with the Americans or with the Chinese. We can benefit from both of them.

Let’s just call them friend America and friend China so we are not accused of being partisan.

The way I see it friend America is using us as a conduit to deliver messages to friend China. I like the term used by an FB friend - we are being used as the cat’s paw. The trouble is before long, as events develop, there is a danger that friend China will soon be led to think of us as hostile.

Meanwhile America and China will continue to be friends under the détente of strategic cooperation. Their political and economic ties are so intertwined that they cannot or would not jeopardize their vested interests.

America, even acts as a mediator (if blowing hot and cold) that the Philippines settle the South China dispute peacefully.

This unhappy situation of the Philippines is done through media and diplomacy. The President’s recent visit to America highlighted the problem.

In the visit the two presidents reiterated Philippine-American friendship but could not avoid the undertones of the China problem. This is not to deny the South China problem and the claims of other countries, including the Philippines. It is there.

But there must be other ways of approaching the problem other than warning China that the Philippines has the support of America.

Other claimants have done better and continue to cultivate China’s friendship despite their claims. Following the Deng Xiaoping doctrine these countries continue to conduct business, trade and receive valuable development investments from China. Contrast that with the Philippines with its almost daily harangue at China and vice-versa.

It has created a hostile environment that has not served the country well. One reliable source told this column said that while the Philippines is used as a cat’s paw of America, the other claimants have kept quiet and reap the benefits of China’s friendship.

* * *

That dilemma was highlighted during the meeting between President Aquino and President Obama in the White House.

In the meeting at the oval office yesterday, while the Americans pushed for greater American presence in the Philippines, Filipinos wanted America “to make a clear public statement that it will come to the aid of Filipinos in case of external attack,” officials said.

The same sources said that America was unwilling to go beyond general pronouncements that it will comply with its obligations under the 61-year-old Mutual Defense Treaty.

“It’s an awkward question for the US as it seeks to enhance its Asian alliances without alarming Beijing,” one of the officials said.

The Philippines as America’s cat’s paw wants to be more than be merely a cat’s paw.

But that requires deft policy-making and diplomacy that the present administration seems incapable of pulling off. For whatever reason the Philippine claim has become the center piece of the problem with China rather than America’s concern with China’s growing power and foreseeable hegemony in the region.

The two-month standoff between Philippine and Chinese vessels at the disputed Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea has contributed to that. On the other hand, America’s determination to remain the superpower in the region has become muted.

Muted or not American-Chinese rivalry in the region remains the paramount concern in the region.

The Philippines is a mere side issue and a hapless victim should this rivalry lead to a superpower confrontation. China sees through the Philippine government’s aggressive statements about its claim with the help of “incidents” to tar China as a bully.

With China acting as a bully, it seems right for the Philippines to ask help from America, a strong friend. But will the friend help when its own well-being and interests come first and will not be allow these to be jeopardized.

* * *

Former Speaker Jose de Venecia, who has devoted his time to geopolitics in the region since his exit from local politics, stated “We don’t want a new cold war in the Asia Pacific.”

He was speaking as founding chairman of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) in Beijing last week.

“Our individual states should not have to choose between the great powers — because we want no new Cold War in the Asia Pacific.

He met with senior Chinese officials earlier this year and only last week in Beijing, with the minister and two vice ministers of the Communist Party of China, former senior officers of the People’s Liberation Army, leaders of civil society organizations who are officials of the Chinese parliament, former high-ranking diplomats and academics, on the sidelines of an international dialogue sponsored by the Chinese Association for International Understanding (CAFIU).

A seasoned diplomat and politician, he tackled the debate on whether “China and the Philippines should resolve the dispute between them in bilateral or multilateral negotiations.” This has been at the crux of how to approach the problem.

“The Chinese have pointed out that they successfully resolved their land border conflicts with Russia and Vietnam in bilateral, not multilateral negotiations and are continuing their bilateral talks with India on the Himalayan positions. Let us also talk to Malaysia and Brunei, the other claimants, who have not disputed strongly with China.”

Many Filipino businessmen have complained that this continuing hostility between China and the Philippines has dampened trade and business between the two countries.

“Today, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Pakistan, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia, the Central Asians, Africans and Latin Americans have major economic joint-ventures with China, drawing on huge Chinese investments in energy, natural resources, infrastructure and tourism,” he said.

He wisely cautions against turning down the bilateral approach. “Let us talk to the other claimants, and we ourselves, should talk directly to the Chinese, at first in informal bilateral negotiations, listen to their proposal on the settlement of the dispute. We may find our positions not too far apart,” he suggested.

It is a complex diplomatic wrangle that cannot be helped by careless statements made by government officials to media. It has a far-reaching toll on our economy keeping us from creating jobs, investments for infrastructure projects and developing further a substantial market for our products.

“Our leaders should take the greatest care in charting policy on the complex South China Sea issue.

What is at stake for our people may not merely be barren rocks, some of which are submerged at high tide,” he added.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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