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CHINA appears to have installed weapons – including anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems – on all seven of the artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea.

On Dec. 14, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), a US think-tank, bared its findings despite statements by the Chinese leadership that Beijing had no intention to militarize the islands in the strategic trade route claimed by several countries.

AMTI had been tracking the construction of hexagonal structures on Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi reefs in the Spratly Islands since June and July. China built military-length airstrips on these islands.

“These guns – and probably close-in weapons systems (CIWS) emplacements – show that Beijing is serious about defending its artificial islands in case of an armed contingency in the South China Sea,” AMTI said.

And we thought (especially, President Rody Duterte) that China had no intention of raising the already high tension in the contested areas of the South China Sea. In truth, China – or shall we say President Xi Jinping – did not stop building the defense system to protect its interest in those reclaimed islands.

We cannot blame the world’s perception that China is actually pushing towards achieving its so-called “China dream” no matter what, even to the point of going to war and seeking outside enemies in the process just to unite the Chinese nation.

If the independent foreign policy of President Duterte means engaging friendship and cooperation with China and doing away with international laws / principles and arguments based on UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) , we are heading for trouble.

Engaging in bilateral talks with China to ease tension in the South China Sea is not a walk in the park. As what former Assistant Secretary for Asean Affairs (1988-89) and Asian and Pacific Affairs (l997-1999) at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Juanito P. Jarasa wrote in his article (@manilatimes online): “As a member of the Philippine delegation to two high-level bilateral meetings with China regarding the South China Sea held in Beijing in May 1997 and Manila in March 1999, I saw how difficult it was to deal with China on a one-on-one basis. The Chinese wanted us to swallow hook, line and sinker their ‘historic rights and indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea’ while rejecting international law principles and arguments based on UNCLOS. Unless China changes its mind about the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling, I am afraid entering into bilateral negotiations with China will be like going into a cul-de-sac (dead end). Indications are strong that the South China Sea will remain as one of China’s three core national interests, along with Taiwan and Tibet.

It seems the only hope of the Philippines, and the world for that matter, is for China to realize that the “China dream” to bury its past humiliation in the hands of Western powers and to gain respect as a leading civilized state does not lie in the disregard or disrespect of the rule of law but in abiding by the time-honored comitas gentium or comity of nations.

Merriam-Webster says that since 1862, “comity of nations” has referred to countries bound by a courteous relationship based on mutual recognition of executive, legislative and judicial acts.

In essence, comity entails friendship and respect among countries as well as mutual civility and courtesy between them. That could be hard to achieve in today’s world beset by turmoil of various kinds but it is an ideal situation worth aspiring for./PN



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