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Philippine leader sounds alarm on China

By Keith Bradsher

New York Times

LAST UPDATED: 09:58 p.m. HST, Feb 04, 2014

MANILA » President Benigno S. Aquino III called Tuesday (Monday in Hawaii) for nations around the world to do more to support the Philippines in resisting China's assertive claims to the seas near his country, drawing a comparison to the West's failure to support Czechoslovakia against Hitler's demands for Czech land in 1938.

Like Czechoslovakia, the Philippines faces demands to surrender territory piecemeal to a much stronger foreign power and needs more robust foreign support for the rule of international law if it is to resist, Aquino said in a 90-minute interview in the wood-paneled music room of the presidential palace.

"If we say yes to something we believe is wrong now, what guarantee is there that the wrong will not be further exacerbated down the line?" he said. He later added, "At what point do you say, 'Enough is enough'? Well, the world has to say it — remember that the Sudetenland was given in an attempt to appease Hitler to prevent World War II."

Aquino's remarks are among the strongest indications yet of alarm among Asian heads of state about China's military buildup and territorial ambitions, and the second time in recent weeks that an Asian leader has volunteered a comparison to the prelude to world wars.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan caused a stir in Davos, Switzerland, when he noted last month that Britain and Germany had gone to war in 1914 even though they had close economic ties — much as China and Japan have now.

Japan has been locked in an increasingly tense standoff with China over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, and even South Korea, which has been quieter about Chinese claims, expressed alarm last year when Beijing announced that it had the right to police the skies above a vast area of ocean, including areas claimed by Japan and South Korea.

While China's efforts to claim rocks, shoals and fishing grounds off the coast of the Philippines in the South China Sea have been less high-profile, the Chinese have moved faster there.

The Philippines already appears to have lost effective control of one of the best-known places of contention, a reef called Scarborough Shoal, after Philippine forces withdrew during a standoff with China in 2012. The Philippine forces left as part of a U.S.-mediated deal in which both sides were to pull back while the dispute was negotiated. Chinese forces remained, however, and gained control.

In his nearly four years as president, Aquino, 53, has exceeded expectations in his country and the region for what he would be able to accomplish in a nation once known as the "sick man of Asia." He was a fairly low-key senator when he was propelled into the presidency in 2010 by a wave of national sympathy after his mother, former President Corazon C. Aquino, died the year before.

Political analysts say that his administration has fought and reduced the corruption that played a role in holding the Philippines back. In one practical measure of that change, the country has been able to pave more roads per 100 million pesos in spending (about $2.2 million) than before — when funds were lost to corrupt officials and incompetence — finally addressing an impediment to commerce.

All of the major credit rating agencies now give the Philippines an investment grade rating, although the recent downturn in share prices and currencies here and in other emerging markets, on fears of further slowing of the Chinese economy, poses an immediate challenge.

In another accomplishment, Aquino's negotiators concluded a major peace agreement last month with the main resistance group on Mindanao, the heavily Muslim southern island. Still, the deal remains something of a gamble; it is based in good part on the Muslim group's ability to hold in check smaller resistance groups, which criticized the pact almost immediately.

Despite those successes, Aquino was criticized for the country's slow initial response to last year's devastating typhoon. He said the storm had been so powerful that it overwhelmed the Philippines' many preparations.

He has also been less aggressive on land reform -- the Aquinos are among the country's biggest landowning families -- and he has preferred to shift more of the government's social spending to poor villages instead. Walden Bello, although a congressman in the president's governing coalition, said he was one of many who believe that "the lack of real progress on land reform is a real reason why poverty rates have remained" at high levels.

Analysts say the almost feudal power of some entrenched families, including some with militias, is a further obstacle to growth. But Aquino said he was trying to convince the families that becoming less insular would foster greater prosperity.

Aquino is prevented by law from seeking re-election when his six-year term expires in 2016, raising uncertainty about whether his changes will continue.

In the wide-ranging interview Tuesday, Aquino said he thought the Philippines and the United States were close to a long-delayed deal that would allow more U.S. troops to rotate through the Philippines, enhancing his country's security. But the subject remains controversial among the political elite in the Philippines, with memories of the country's past as a U.S. possession making them wary of closer military ties.

The United States is pushing for the deal to aid in its rebalance to Asia, where it hopes to retain a strong influence despite China's rise.

Speaking of the Philippines' own tensions with the Chinese, Aquino said his country would not renounce any of its possessions in the sea between it and China.

China contends that centuries-old maps show that it had an early claim to the South China Sea almost to Borneo. It is trying to use its large and growing fleet to exercise effective control over reefs and islands in the sea, a strategy that could strengthen its legal position.

At the same time, China has strongly resisted applying the procedures and numerical formulas of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea to the many reefs and islands that lie much closer to countries like the Philippines than to China. Officials in Beijing also oppose multilateral discussions, preferring bilateral talks with individual countries in Southeast Asia, an approach that allows Chinese leaders to apply greater pressure.

While China has been improving its military, Aquino noted that the last flight by a Philippine fighter jet had been in 2005 and that the plane had dated from before the Vietnam War. Most of the country's tiny naval and coast guard fleet dates from World War II.

The difficulties with China extend beyond the arguments over the South China Sea. The Hong Kong government, with enthusiastic backing from the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing, plans to stop allowing 14-day visa-free visits by Filipino diplomats and officials starting Wednesday. The sanctions are part of a long-running demand by Hong Kong that the national government of the Philippines apologize over a violent episode in 2010 in which a hostage rescue attempt in Manila failed, leaving eight Hong Kong citizens dead.

In his first public response to the sanctions, Aquino said he had no plans to apologize, saying that doing so could create a legal liability and noting that China had not paid compensation to the families of Filipinos who have died in episodes there.

Aquino, who is not married, lives in a small cottage behind the presidential palace instead of in the luxurious palace itself. He said he tried to relax before going to sleep each night either by listening to music — often jazz — or pursuing his passion as an amateur historian, reading military journals, some about World War II.

While recently reading about the predicament of Czechoslovakia's leaders in the late 1930s, he said, he saw a parallel "in a sense" to his own problems now in facing challenges from China. Appeasement did not work in 1938, he noted; within six months of the surrender of the Sudetenland, Germany occupied most of the rest of Czechoslovakia.

The Philippines, he said, is determined not to make similar concessions.

"You may have the might," he said of China, "but that does not necessarily make you right."

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MalamaKaAina wrote:
Communism is not love. Communism is a hammer which we use to crush the enemy. ~Mao Zedong
on February 4,2014 | 11:49PM
Grimbold wrote:
The communist party of China has now acquired corrupt fascist behavior and has become a criminal gang stealing from its people. They don't even follow their own laws they made themselves and jail anybody who mentions that. They are as vicious as the emperors of old.
on February 5,2014 | 07:44AM
Nevadan wrote:
You sound like a religious fanatic
on February 5,2014 | 09:31AM
loquaciousone wrote:
We really don't have to worry about the Chinese because they are rapidly committing Hara Kiri by pollution.
on February 5,2014 | 06:19AM
Morimoto wrote:
Never trust air you can't see.
on February 5,2014 | 07:38AM
Morimoto wrote:
Why is it that some countries always lag behind others in development? I mean I'd bet in 500 years the Philippines will still be poor and impoverished. Is it the culture, the people, outside influences? I know there are some success stories, (ex. S. Korea) but if you look at the world as a whole in the past 500 years it seems like the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
on February 5,2014 | 07:37AM
cojef wrote:
There is a new world order on the horizon, chomping on bits waiting to emerge, but first, destroy any semblance democracy. In the interim, emerging is a fascist regime, flexing its muscles to expand their domain. This is necessary as the area is reputed to contain huge oil and mineral deposit necessary to fuel it military engine. This area contains one of the key source missing in their country, unlimited supply of oil. Once this area is under their control, they can put the squeeze on the rest of the world, by threat economically as well as militarily. Good example, Japan's once thriving electronic industry was destroyed to lesser position by depriving that industry an ample supply or rare metals so necessary to remain dominant. Strategically with military strength and economic muscle China will be able to globally dictate political issue during this interim period.
on February 5,2014 | 08:26AM
Morimoto wrote:
I assume you're talking about China. Do you even know the definition of "fascism"? It doesn't seem so, either that or you know nothing about China. Oh and the supply of oil isn't unlimited, nothing is unlimited. There aren't many proven oil reserves in the S. China Sea. It's less about natural resources than it is about political power. I really think you're ignorant and know nothing about China or politics in general. They have more internal issues than anything else. If you think China will rule the world anytime soon I think you've been watching too much FOX news.
on February 5,2014 | 10:10AM
Grimbold wrote:
We acknowledge intelligence and mentality differences in different breeds of dogs, horses whatever, but we deny that such differences exist in human races or bloodlines. Because it would proof that racism has a valid basis. In a free society with opportunity for everyone we have to close our eyes to the different success of different races. Lets live with the lie that all races or bloodlines are equal and the same and only have different outside appearances. Did I answer your question?
on February 5,2014 | 09:15AM
Morimoto wrote:
You gave me your answer to my question but haven't provided any proof to support your conclusion. I personally think it has more to do with culture and circumstance than it does with inherent differences between the different races. Case in point, people say that blacks are the most violent race in America, but if you go back 300 years, whites were more violent than blacks in this country. I can't prove you wrong and there may be some merit to your conclusion, but I think culture and circumstance play a larger role than inherent racial differences.
on February 5,2014 | 10:15AM
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