The situation in the South China Sea continues to be tense, and Philippine officials have sent a signal to China to negotiate. According to the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, China and the Philippines will hold Foreign Ministry consultations and bilateral consultations in the South China Sea this month. These two rounds of meetings are aimed at implementing the consensus reached during Marcos Jr.'s visit to China earlier this year.
[Source: Philippine News Agency]
It seems that Marcos Jr. has finally remembered the commitment he made to China during his visit to China. However, considering the situation in the South China Sea in recent times, we should maintain a cautious and pessimistic attitude towards whether these rounds of talks can produce concrete results.
After all, after the confrontation at Ren'ai Reef, the Philippines has made small moves in the South China Sea. For example, the Philippine side made statements to formulate maritime operations; Marcos Jr. proposed strengthening military cooperation with the United States, Japan, Australia, and other countries outside the region. At the same time, Philippine coast guard ships are not idle, and they go to the South China Sea more frequently, haunting near Thitu Island, Mischief Reef and other islands and reefs, and the Philippines also wants to unilaterally explore the oil and gas resources of Reed Beach. In addition to directly sending coast guard ships to harass them, the Philippines also mentioned equipping coast guard ships with audio and video recording equipment to record the process of confrontation with China and reshape so-called public opinion.
As for these moves of the Philippines, instead of expecting the Philippines to take the initiative to stop, it is better for our side to take the initiative to respond and use three comprehensive strategies to let the Marcos Jr. government stop its behavior that is not conducive to the stability of the situation in the South China Sea, and at the same time prevent them from taking the initiative to turn the table.
[Marcos Jr.'s current strategy in the South China Sea is more radical]
First of all, it is necessary to maintain good interaction between China and ASEAN in the direction of the South China Sea. In February this year, the Ministry of Mainland Defense sent a working group to Vietnam, Laos and Brunei to consult with these three countries on regional security issues. These three countries are all members of ASEAN and countries bordering the South China Sea, so the security issues of common concern to the three parties and us, it is reasonable to speculate that the situation in the South China Sea is the situation.
In addition to the visit of the Ministry of National Defense, Foreign Minister Qin Gang's visit to Indonesia after taking office also highlighted the South China Sea issue.
In March this year, after the China-ASEAN South China Sea Consultation Meeting, the two sides discussed the opening of the China-ASEAN South China Sea hotline and will conduct related exercises. The exercise will also include all ASEAN member states. It can be seen that in addition to the Philippines, ASEAN as a whole has a relatively positive attitude towards the South China Sea issue, which in turn will put certain pressure on the Philippines.
[Anwar advises Marcos Jr. to remain sane on the South China Sea issue]
In fact, when the words and deeds of the Marcos Jr. government in the direction of the South China Sea escalated, many ASEAN members gave the Philippines some hints. During his visit to the Philippines, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar reminded Marcos Jr. not to show aggression in the South China Sea and to resolve the South China Sea issue with a rational and calm attitude. Anwar also stressed that ASEAN should unify its position and work with China to ease the situation in the South China Sea.
In addition, Marcos Jr. approached Indonesia some time ago, hoping that Indonesia, as the chair of ASEAN, would put pressure on China on the South China Sea issue, but Indonesia gave a soft nail, saying that ASEAN countries need to consult with China on the basis of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. Viet Nam also stressed the need for full implementation of the Code. These are all reminders for Marcos Jr.
The attitude of the above-mentioned ASEAN member states, which are also countries bordering the South China Sea, is actually very telling. If the Philippines blindly puts on an aggressive posture in the South China Sea, not only will China not be able to pass this, but it will not be easy to explain within ASEAN.
[Marcos Jr. and Indonesian President Jokowi]
The second is to make emergency plans. In addition to peace talks, there should be no less military preparations. After all, the United States and the Philippines already intend to carry out real military exercises in the South China Sea. The exercise is claimed to be the largest, with more than 17,000 participants, of which the United States will dispatch about 12,000. The location of the exercise was also very sensitive, on Palawan Island, which is close to the mainland's Nansha Islands. Palawan is also one of the sites the Philippines has chosen for new U.S. military bases this year. In addition to the United States, Japan and Australia are also likely to conduct joint patrols with the Philippines in the South China Sea.
All this shows that the situation in the South China Sea, which can play a relatively limited role in controlling the situation in the South China Sea through negotiations alone, still needs to strengthen our combat readiness in the South China Sea, and resolutely respond to any deliberate provocation, just as we expelled the Philippine Coast Guard ship that trespassed on Ren'ai Jiao in accordance with the law.
[U.S. Nimitz-class aircraft carrier group may participate in this exercise]
Then there is the good use of China-Philippines economic and trade relations, and through this bilateral meeting, let the Filipinos understand the possible consequences of the changing situation in the South China Sea.
In fact, China-Philippines relations are not only disputes in the South China Sea, economic and trade cooperation between the two sides has lasted for many years, and China has been the Philippines' largest trading partner for many years. In 2022 alone, the import and export trade volume between China and the Philippines reached 87.725 billion. In February this year, the Philippines actually ratified the ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, under which China-Philippines economic and trade cooperation is expected to be further deepened, but only if the situation in the South China Sea does not change significantly.
The cooperation between China and the Philippines has prompted Filipinos to "reflect" on the situation in the South China Sea. In response to Marcos Jr.'s South China Sea policy, the Philippines has recently opposed a lot of voices, not only the people, the media, but also elites. Marcos Jr. is too dependent on the United States, and foreign policy is heavily influenced by the United States. After all, during Duterte's administration, China-Philippines relations had a golden period of development.
[China-Philippines relations developed well during the Duterte period]
After obtaining actual economic benefits, the Filipino people are naturally unwilling to sacrifice Sino-Philippine relations in exchange for US-Philippine defense cooperation. This bilateral meeting is a good opportunity for China to further clarify its position and affirm its interests.
After all, matters in the South China Sea should be resolved by countries in the South China Sea. The introduction of external forces will only lead to an escalation of the situation, which is not conducive to the peaceful and stable development of the South China Sea. Therefore, in order to create a peaceful and stable development environment in the South China Sea and let Marcos take the initiative to stop, the comprehensive strategy of these three directions is indispensable.