MANILA, Philippines – "Well-intentioned but naive" was the way Gregory Poling, one of the world's leading experts on the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), described the Duterte administration's approach toward the disputed waters.
This is "because the facts on the ground don't support the notion that China's acting in good faith," Poling said, referring to China's militarization of the West Philippine Sea.
"If a bully keeps punching you over and over and over, it is naive to think he's all of a sudden going to stop and behave nicely," he said in a Rappler Talk interview on February 1.
Poling is the director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). He was in Manila in the week of February 1 for a series of talks and meetings.
Coincidentally, days after his Philippine trip, the Philippine Daily Inquirer published close-up aerial photos of China's militarization of the West Philippine Sea.
Poling's group, the AMTI, has itself published satellite images of China's militarization of the disputed waters. Poling said he doesn't "see any evidence" that China will change its behavior soon.
Philippine Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, on Wednesday, February 7, had said that the Philippines might someday "thank" China for building artificial islands.
"There will come a time when China's might has ceased, when we will have to thank them for those islands," Roque had said.
"Clearly, eventually, those artificial islands will be ours if we can ask China to leave," he added.
In Poling's Rappler Talk interview, he also addressed comments that the Duterte administration is not being naive but being practical, seeking to avoid war with China and wanting Filipino fishermen to be able to fish.
"I don't think that's practicality. I think that's defeatist," Poling said.
He added: "But the only options here are not surrender or war. There is a whole spectrum of ways to impose costs on the Chinese for being bullies and outlaws, that we haven't tried yet." (READ: 5 ways Duterte can defend Scarborough without going to war)
"It's a little early to fly the white flag and surrender now." – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.