South China Sea or West Philippine Sea?
One Filipino Legislator’s visit to America and study of your War of 1812
By Herbert Borja, Albay Province, Republic of Philippines
Keynote Remarks to the 13th annual Freedom Leadership Conference, Marriott Courtyard Hotel, Tysons Corner, 12/5/12 (http://FreedomLeadershipConference) sponsored by United States Intelligence Council (http://USintelligenceCouncil.org) and Freedom Center Foundation
Thank you Madame Chairman of the Board, the Board members of this Freedom Leadership Conference and your sponsors, United States Intelligence Council and Freedom Center Foundation and you, the delegates of this 13th annual Freedom Leadership Conference.
I bring you greetings from the Republic of the Philippines and our warmest regards.
We have some history in common. There is a path we walked together not so very long ago, where every ten yards the blood of fallen Americans mingled with the blood of Filipinos.
Sad to say, some in both of our countries have forgotten this heritage and the price paid for today’s freedom.
I speak of the Bataan Death March. Of the liberation of the Philippines from a force we could not have defeated alone. Of our standing together to hold up the light, against the darkness.
We are just two days away from anniversary of the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor that caught both America and the Philippines unprepared for war.
I pray the same thing is not going to happen again in the same region of the world which Americans mistakenly thought, was way too far away for them to be worried about, and a war which so many in both our countries thought could never come.
In behalf of a free Republic which now stands as your friend near the shores of Asia, I say thank you America but especially thank you to every military veteran, every family of a soldier, sailor, airman or marine.
The Republic of the Philippines rid itself of the Japanese invader thanks to your help. All of us should remember this on December 7. Especially we should remember the price we paid before, for being unprepared.
We face new threats today.
I know that you in this room are exceptionally well informed and realize that America remains a source of hope and sometimes the only source of help in a world which still has so much hate and darkness.
I am here to speak to you about a new gathering storm in the Pacific.
Once upon a time, a smaller Republic faced a belligerent and aggressive country whose leadership was not bound by any restrictions or Constitution, was neither democratic nor a Republic.
That smaller Republic faced a larger and more powerful navy. Freedom of navigation, the most basic right of passage on the high seas, was in jeopardy, because that larger navy could and in fact did stop the Democratic Republic’s merchant ships, seized their citizens on the high seas.
Certainly, what I have just told you does describe the gathering storm of 2012 between my Democratic Republic of the Philippines versus China.
But I am also speaking of what actually happened to you, not far, far away on America’s western perimeter near Asia, but right here 200 years ago, your own War of 1812.
The smaller democratic Republic was you, the United States of America.
The country which was neither a Republic nor democratic at that time, was Great Britain.
The country with the smaller navy was yours.
The country whose freedom to navigate the seas was in danger, and which was being bullied by the larger country, was you.
The outcome of that war was certainly in question as it began.
So much so that Dr. Francis Scott Key asked – and remember it was a question – during the battle for Baltimore, as he witnessed the massive bombardment of Fort McHenry: “Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave; O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”
Now exactly 200 years after your War of 1812, you and I are seeing a new threat to freedom of navigation on the world’s seas.
Today, right now, we Filipinos face the might of China which is attempting the biggest grab of territory in the Pacific rim since the Japanese seized the Philippines 70 years ago.
China today threatens freedom of the seas and most directly, the national security interests of the United States and the Philippines.
The conflict is over one of the most vital strategic waterways in the world, the West Philippine Sea. The Chinese call it the South China Sea.
This is what you call a “chokepoint.” And, the West Philippine Sea has one third of the world’s shipping transiting through an area that holds enormous gas and oil reserves – ranging from 28 billion to as high as 213 billion barrels of oil and gas, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
In the midst of this vast waterway are several small island chains, two of which are completely within the 200 miles economic zone of the Philippines and the third, the Paracel Islands, is partly within the zone of Vietnam, China and the Philippines.
If this area can be controlled by China it can hinder passage of U.S. warships and ships carrying supplies for U.S. military as well as goods coming from and going to the United States throughout Southeast Asia.
This is one of the world’s busiest waterways and affects many countries, not merely those of us on the Pacific Rim facing this modern day Goliath.
China is making an increasingly aggressive play to outright control this waterway.
If you think my comparison of your War of 1812 and the gathering storm in the West Philippine Sea is exaggerated, listen to the Philippine Daily Inquirer of December 2:
“China is ‘literally testing the waters’ to see how far it can go in provoking America’s tolerance with the plan to board foreign ships as an act of asserting its claim over virtually the entire South China Sea.”
Philippines Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago said “China’s plan to board foreign ships” is a “power play” with the U.S. She said China is increasingly aggressive because it has lent so much money to America and thinks it may get away with this power grab.
The Secretary of The Association of Southeast Asian Nations – or ASEAN – notes that China’s increasingly aggressive moves, or gunboat diplomacy, has “increased a level of concern and a level of great anxiety among all parties, particularly parties that would need the access, the passage and the freedom to go through” the West Philippine Sea.
The Philippine ABS-CBN TV Network reports “The United states… says it has a national interest in freedom of navigation in the area.”
Surin Pitsuwan, the ASEAN Secretary General, in a Reuters interview, flat out calls Chinese plans to stop ships in the West Philippine Sea, an escalation of tensions and a “very serious turn of events.”
Let me tell you briefly about the disputed three major island groups. One of them is the Paracels where several countries, including mine, have our 200 mile economic zone overlapping some of the islands.
However, the Scarborough Shoal is far away from the Chinese 200 miles zone, and only 125 miles from the Philippines. Some of the Spratleys are even closer.
More powerful Chinese gunships have actually confronted and pushed away Filipino ships in these islands. Now China has already constructed housing and moved people onto some of the disputed islands.
Yes, the Chinese have literally established and are now expanding a beachhead.
The Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs or DFA, said this past Saturday, this is “a direct threat to the entire international community.”
Last week, formal protests by the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and India were directed at the Chinese for their new passport which shows the disputed areas as belonging to them. Some of us refuse to stamp such a passport when those who hold it attempt to enter our country. This is getting very serious.
The Philippines is worried that ships entering this vast waterway claimed by China face a new threat to what is “virtually the entire South China Sea” and the ships “can be boarded, inspected, detained, confiscated, immobilized and expelled, among other punitive actions.”
This is an escalating conflict.
Last Thursday as I prepared to travel to the United States, China empowered its police, effective January 1, to board and turn away foreign ships entering the disputed waters.
In fact, Chinese police in the West Philippine Sea are now empowered to stop what they call illegal activity that even includes “carrying out publicity campaigns that endanger China’s national security” says the official Xinhua news agency of China.
So, when they see or read these remarks, perhaps on the Freedom Leadership Conference website, I have to wonder. Will I now be subjected to arrest, if they found me on a ship transiting the West Philippine Sea?
Last April, there was a tense standoff between warships from the Philippines and the Chinese. My country withdrew its ships as was agreed.
But we are still waiting for the Chinese to live up to their promise to remove their warships from our islands, just 125 miles from the Philippine mainland. Last Thursday, my government issued a new protest over this six month delay.
We know that the Chinese would prefer to bully the nations of Southeast Asia, one country at a time. As you can imagine, we smaller countries would prefer to bargain with China as a group.
And we prefer to have the participation and influence of the United States. Just as when we stood together against Japan 70 years ago, America has vital interests of its own on its far western border of the Pacific rim.
When your President visited Cambodia last month for our ASEAN conference he made very clear that the United States remains interested. He supports our Philippine President’s call for multi-nation negotiation, not China’s one-sided demand to go after us one country at a time.
For my part, I fully support my province Governor’s speaking out against this aggression by his launching of a boycott of products made in China. There are many ways we can peacefully make a stand together.
I urge you to consider carefully what we can together do now to help stop the seizure of what will become China’s Sea if nothing is done.
China is preparing for a showdown. A few days ago their new aircraft carrier conducted successful tests of jets landing and taking off. They continue to build more missiles, faster missiles, more deadly submarines, jet bombers and fighters, a larger navy. They have more intermediate nuclear tipped missiles than any other country in that region of the world.
I hope and pray that the spirit which guided you in the War of 1812 still lives, and that you will give a clear signal to China that you will not tolerate this aggressive behavior.
It is critical that the light of freedom be kept burning and that free passage through the West Philippine Sea, be preserved.
That guarantee will either come from negotiation with China by a community of nations willing to stand together firmly against aggression from China.
Or else, it may come down to a showdown at sea, if the Chinese calculate they are going to get away with this.
I pray for a peaceful resolution, even as I warn that strength leads to peace, weakness leads to war and to quote National Defense College of the Philippines Professor Chester Babalza, “our reawakening always starts with a conflict.”
If we do not stand together, but are instead pushed back and the West Philippine Sea is changed to the South China Sea, then I fear such a retreat will move the American freedom defense perimeter back eastward, back past Wake Island, past Hawaii and to your new Maginot Line at the California coast.
Let us pray and work together once again, America and the Philippines, to keep the light of freedom burning, for freedom of the seas, for common purpose, against a common threat.
Let us pray and work together so that the light once again, banishes the dark. Thank you, God bless you and God bless the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America.
See Legislator Herbert Borja Addendum to Remarks, a handout with map, given to Conference Participants, http://freedomleadershipconference.org/?page_id=333