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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Will Diplomacy Work In The Spratlys Islands Dispute?

Gamling: "Too few have come. We cannot defeat the armies of Mordor. 
Theoden:  No. We cannot. But we will meet them in battle nonetheless."
- Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King

Diplomacy is always the better option to resolve the Spratlys Islands dispute. Only a crazy and blood-thirsty individual would enjoy war. That doesn't mean the Philippines shouldn't stand and fight for what is right.

The problem with diplomacy is that it only works IF you can back up your position with something really strong. A country who engages in diplomacy should have something that the other party values or fears. Why negotiate with someone who has nothing of value or doesn't have anything credible to back up his or her claims & position? That's the hard truth.

BRP Rajah Humabon (photo from wikipedia.org)
Sending the world's oldest warship to patrol its own territory may sound laughable but it shows that Manila willing to back up its words with actions even if it looks ineffective in a real life battle.

Yes, it is symbolic. Yes, it is only a token defense but this is not the 19th or early 20th century anymore where other nations just watch and do nothing when a bigger country grabs a smaller state's territory. In a globalized world, people do business with everybody and China is the biggest beneficiary of a liberalized trading regime. Democratic governments that value the rule of law and human rights (ironic, yes) do a lot business with China.

If the superior Chinese navy fire and kill Filipino sailors and soldiers in their own backyard(God forbid!), how do you think the rest of the free people of the world would react to that? Are they still willing to purchase goods from a country that uses profits from their sales to kill citizens of another country in their own soil?

I think this is where Filipinos should work on hard and fast. The Philippine Navy cannot defeat the Chinese navy (not in 50 years or even more as long as thieving generals and politicians are still around) but it can engage them in and even win in a propaganda war.

Why propaganda and world opinion? The reason is simple: every military officer world-wide knows that war is nothing but politics by other means (Klaus Von Claustwitz). Every military action is merely a furtherance of a political agenda. And politics is tied to perception, opinion, preservation of power whether elected or not.

Unpopularity of the  Vietnam War forced the U.S. to negotiate
with the North Vietnamese government (photo from: boomerslife.org)
The North Vietnamese used propaganda and weakened the United States will to fight, forcing American leaders to go for a negotiated settlement in Paris and thereafter a withdrawal from the Vietnamese War. America didn't win the war because it was an unpopular war.

The same with Israel's occupation of Lebanon in 1980s. The same with the Soviets in Afghanistan.

The Americans, Israelis and Soviets had far superior arms, logistics and manpower. But they all lost the will to fight (or at least weighed in the political costs) forcing their respective leaders to retreat in shame. The brave guerillas & NVA soldiers, Lebanese guerillas & Mujahideens didn't just fight long and hard on the battlefield, their proper use of propaganda turned the tide in their favor.

The Philippines can do it too and it can join its ASEAN allies to make this happen.

The war for world opinion is where Filipinos can win because the claim are standing on firm righteous and legal ground. Filipinos should use the internet: blogs, social networks and other social media to drum up awareness. Pinoys should spread the word to the citizens of countries who are the biggest buyers of Chinese goods and services. Filipinos should ask them if it's right for their home governments to do business with a country who bullies and harasses its neighbors or ask them if it's right for their government and country to let another state use the profits from their exports to build a war machine to grab territories from their weaker nations.

Okay, asking people to stop buying cheap Chinese made goods and change their lifestyle maybe a long shot but hey, if DiCaprio was able to drum up awareness for blood diamonds (diamonds from conflict-ridden & genocidal regimes in Africa) maybe it has a chance. If not then, at least Filipinos can bring their case to the court of international opinion.

It's interesting to see if the Chinese propaganda machinery can match the Filipino's world-wide network of OFWs (overseas filipino workers), expats in terms of influence. If Tibet can marshall world opinion up to the levels of Hollywood, how much more if Filipinos worldwide make full use of their communication power abroad?

Respected Filipino personalities and celebrities can use their influence and media clout to bring to large audiences the real score about China's bullying. Think Manny Pacquiao, Charice Pempengco and other respected Pinoys wearing T-shirts, arm bands with FREE THE KALAYAAN ISLANDS written on them giving speeches or being interviewed on ESPN, CNN and other international media outlets.

In the case of Manny Pacquiao he can even whisper to Senator Harry Reid (whose election he owes to the multi-titled boxer) to bring up China's bullying to the Senate floor. Just in case everyone has forgotten, the Pacman is a member of the Philippine Army, a Sergeant Major in the reserves.

By bringing to the whole world and getting the global community involved (which China definitely hates because it prefers to bilateral talks with claimants...meaning: divide and conquer), the Philippines will put China on the defensive propaganda-wise and even think twice about going all out in grabbing everything in sight on the West Philippine Sea (ex-South China Sea). 

Diplomacy works but only if you bring something to the table. By demonstrating their capacity to turn global opinion against a big bully then only then can negotiations of among equals and find an acceptable solution can begin. 

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