Many of us are familiar with the term “Stockholm Syndrome”. In 1973, four people were taken hostage in Stockholm.
Despite their ordeal, the hostages spoke well of their captors and refused to testify against them in court. The term was eventually applied to victims of abuse who refuse to take action against their abusers. This is most evident in cases of persons victimised by authority figures; the victims usually identify with the interests of the perpetrators and end up speaking well of them.
The Philippines’ relationship with China is abusive. Imagine a farmer with a bully neighbour: The bully takes over the choicest part of the farm and then fences it. The bully proceeds to harvest all the fruits and crops in the area. Each time the farmer mentions the encroachment on his farm, the bully threatens him.
In such a case, the victim would go to the police. But that will make the perpetrator look bad, and, as noted, victims afflicted with Stockholm Syndrome do not want to do that. This explains the statement of Foreign Secretary Alan Cayetano for Filipinos “not to be harsh on China” in spite of its bullying tactics.
Filipino officials have acquired the mindset of the Chinese in common with those afflicted with Stockholm Syndrome. President Rodrigo Duterte has stated that when he mentioned the dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea, President Xi Jinping threatened him with war. (This is the standard ploy of aggressors. When your diplomatic position is weak, then threaten war. Adolf Hitler used this tactic in the Czech crisis of 1938. By continuously threatening war, he pressured British Premier Neville Chamberlain to conclude the infamous Munich Agreement.)
Since then, whenever the policy on the West Philippine Sea is questioned, Duterte’s immediate reply has been that the country is not ready to wage war with China. His spokesperson Harry Roque has said the same thing – that the only way the Philippines can assert its rights on the West Philippine Sea dispute is by waging war with China. Roque is supposedly well-versed in international law and diplomacy. Before one talks about waging war, one must first exhaust all diplomatic options – and the Philippines has not even taken the first step in this direction. The Philippines could start with a formal note of protest to Beijing and then play the United Nations card. It could refer the case to the UN Security Council as a “threat to peace”. China is a member of the UN Security Council and would veto any such resolution, but the Philippines could transfer the issue to the UN General Assembly under the Uniting for Peace Resolution where China cannot use its veto power.
The Philippines could play this card indefinitely since there are many related issues involved. It could ask the UN to demand that China lift its blockade on Ayungin Shoal, as well as its ban on fishing at Panatag Shoal, etc. This will be a PR battle, forcing China to use its veto in the UN Security Council repeatedly. The frequent use of the veto will confirm China’s isolation in the West Philippine Sea dispute.
But instead of these diplomatic initiatives, the Philippine government has engaged in a blame game. Duterte falsely blames the previous Aquino administration for the militarisation of the West Philippine Sea. China’s island reclamation began during the Aquino administration, but militarisation started under Duterte’s watch. The Philippine government blames the US for not stopping China’s reclamation activities. However, the US cannot intervene unless China interdicts freedom of navigation in the area. The Philippine government must take the initiative based on the 2016 ruling of the arbitral tribunal in The Hague awarding our country sovereign rights in the area. Otherwise, we will be subjected to China’s continuing abuse.
The author is a retired former ambassador to Canada, the US and the former Soviet Union.