By Francis Allan L. Angelo
The Vietnamese government, led by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, is faced with the COVID19 pandemic that leaves their avowed mission for the 2020 ASEAN Chairmanship unfulfilled.
In its current term that transitioned from Thailand as its predecessor, led by Prime Minister Chan-o-cha, to Brunei as its successor, led by YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah and YB Dato Hj Erywan, Vietnam would have made full use of its term if given more time with an extension to 2021.
Vietnam’s primary goals were focused on regional unity and through these connections and partnerships, strengthen the ASEAN community as well as enhance its compliance with the 10-member association’s role and contribution responsibility to sustaining regional peace, security, and stability.
But foremost of its policy objectives is to foster more regional unity to face Chinese aggressiveness in its use of its power to continuously claim disputed territories in the South China Sea (SCS). China’s policy of beneficial diplomacy is accompanied by its aggressiveness in maintaining its dominance in the SCS’s community of nations.
According to the Diplomat publication, “US State Department spokeswoman, Morgan Ortagus said that China has continued to deploy maritime militia around Spratly Islands, and amid the pandemic, has even announced new research stations on its military bases it has built on Fiery Cross Reef and Subi Reef.”
Government with similar claims on SCS believed that Chinese vessels assaulting fishermen boats were part of the maritime militia.
Vietnam has been a victim of China’s violation of its security and sovereignty. With Vietnam as Chairman of ASEAN, China’s act of transgression against Vietnam is likewise an assault on ASEAN.
For the month of April alone, three episodes occurred with China as the culprit. This made Vietnam more serious in addressing China’s intrusions into territories which claimants had the right to protect.
In early April, a Chinese coast guard ship sunk a Vietnamese fishing vessel off the Paracel Islands and in mid-April, Beijing re-assigned to an area close to Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the controversial Haiyang Dizhi 8 geological survey ship which it used the previous year to pressure international drilling operations near the Vanguard Bank.
Towards the end of April, Beijing stepped up its control of the Paracel and Spratly by establishing administrative units –Xisha and Nansha – as part of the Hainan province.
Vietnam has also been wary of China’s intrusion to its industries like infrastructure as in the case of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. Hanoi is inclined to withdraw its participation in this infrastructure project of China which will include neighboring countries under the ASEAN like Laos and Cambodia.
In the face of all these transgressions by China into Vietnam, including the episodes which harmed Vietnamese citizen-fishermen, a high anti-Chinese sentiment rose to threaten Chinese business interests in Vietnam.
A more intense anti-Chinese sentiment exists and is growing in the Philippines as Filipinos see very aggressive moves to control not only outlying areas in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) but also critical industries servicing consumers, from power – the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) controlled by the State Grid of China Corporation (SGCC) to telecommunications through State of China’s ChinaTel and JV partner, DITO Telecoms.
Through this Chinese control of industries, massive Chinese migration is thought to be worrisome as it can open the country, for one, to People’s Liberation Army (PLA) invasion and the resultant espionage and cyberattack underground work. With the Chinese setting up organizations like the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO), these can lead to prostitution, drugs and Anti-Money Laundering activities.
China’s dominance of Philippine infrastructure has greater impact on the people when it is natural resources-based in the countryside like the wide expanse of land at the former Sangley US Naval base and the Clark US Air Force base.
Along this line, former Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio questioned the bidding for the Kaliwa dam as “the Communist Party of China had already chosen for the Philippines the winning bidder- the China Energy Engineering Corporation”.
To give an indication of China’s manipulation of power over a country is China President Xi Jingping’ ruse of funding an oil exploration project in the WPS in exchange for the Philippines withdrawing its arbitration victory from the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague.
If the WPS is estimated to be USD7 trillion worth of oil (not counting its valuable fishing grounds), industry pundits say that the Philippines can go it alone devoid of other Chinese schemes like debt traps.