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Spratly Appeasement


September 30, 2011 marks the 73rd anniversary of the Munich Agreement, which was signed by the major powers of Europe to appease Germany’s Adolf Hitler from attacking her neighbors.  After the signing, Britain’s Neville Chamberlain and France’s Edouard Deladier triumphantly brought home the “solemn pledge” signed by Hitler and Italy’s Benito Mussolini.  Chamberlain proudly announced to Londoners, “peace for our time.”  “Peace” was achieved in exchange for Sudetenland -- a tiny slice of land on Czechoslovakia’s border with Germany.  Indeed, it was a small price to pay to appease Hitler.  It came to be known as the “Munich Appeasement.”  

*Land for Peace 

But little did Chamberlain and Deladier realize that appeasing Hitler was like feeding a hungry viper with a little mice – it would only increase the viper’s appetite for a much bigger meal.  Czechoslovakia – who was not represented during the negotiation and signing -- was forced to abide by the agreement after Britain and France told her that she either give up Sudetenland or fight Germany… alone.  Czechoslovakia chose to let go of Sudetenland. 

Germany got more than what she bargained for – de facto control of the rest of Czechoslovakia for as long as Hitler kept his “solemn pledge” not to go any further.  But to Chamberlain and Deladier’s horror, Hitler broke his “solemn pledge” and his tanks and troops rumbled into Prague on March 14, 1939; thus, putting Czechoslovakia under Germany’s total control.

That’s when all hell broke loose!  German tanks and troops rolled out in all directions. World War II began.

*Spratly dispute

Today, 73 years after the Munich Appeasement, it seems that history might repeat itself halfway around the world – in the Spratly archipelago and South China Sea.

Last March 2011, China boldly declared the entire South China Sea a part of her territory, which she claimed goes back to around 200 A.D. on the strength of an ancient Chinese map showing some islands in what is now the Spratly archipelago.  China also claimed that her continental shelf extends throughout the South China Sea, which is one of her “core national interests.” And in no uncertain terms, she said it’s “non-negotiable.” 

Last August 30, 2011, Aquino, upon China’s invitation, went on a five-day state visit to China.  He said that it was “strictly business” to attract Chinese investors.  He also said that he was not going to discuss the Spratly dispute. 

However, in their five-minute meeting, Aquino brought up Spratly and told Hu of the Philippines’ position: “This is a regional problem, and it requires a regional solution.”  Hu responded that the territorial dispute should be settled bilaterally with each of the claimant-nations (China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei) as opposed to the Philippines’ position that all the six claimant-nations should all come to the table to settle their territorial disputes.

*Oil for peace 

While Hu remained unmoved on China’s position, he told Aquino that China would adhere to “peaceful means” in resolving the territorial disputes.  But how could China resolve the disputes if she was not going to compromise China’s hard-line position?

The answer to that question came from Hu himself: The best way to address the problem is to “jointly explore” the South China Sea.  And true enough, he dangled a $1-billion “carrot” for a joint exploration in the Spratlys in addition to a “confirmed” $1.3 billion investment by six Chinese companies.  

Hu also promised to address the Spratly territorial dispute through “peaceful dialogue” and to abide by the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which was signed between the ASEAN nations and China in 2002.  Does that mean that China would be willing to forego her claim that the entire South China Sea is a “core national interest,” or is China going to treat the 2002 declaration just like the way Hitler treated the Munich Agreement in 1938 – a meaningless piece of paper?

However, while Aquino was still in China, the official Xinhua news agency said, “China has always made itself loud and clear that it has indisputable sovereignty over the seas’s islands and surrounding waters, which is part of China’s core interests. That is based on unambiguous and undeniable historical facts.” 

*Senkaku dispute

Last August 29, 2011 -- the day before Aquino left for China – while Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda was being confirmed, Xinhua outlined China’s terms to improve relations with Japan, which are: Japan respects China’s “core national interest” in the East China Sea and China’s claim as the rightful owner of the Senkaku Islands (“Diaoyu Islands” to China), which are administered by Japan.  But here is the stinger: China is willing to shelve “differences” with Japan and jointly explore the region for oil, natural gas, and other resources in the waters and seabed surrounding the Senkaku archipelago… with one condition -- Japan recognizes China’s complete sovereignty over the Senkaku archipelago.

*Déjà vu

What are we seeing here?  In 1936, Hitler set a timetable of four years – 1940 -- to begin her conquest of Europe.  He beat his deadline by one year when he marched into Czechoslovakia in 1939. 

In regard to China, American military strategists foresee China building up her military into a superpower force by 2020 or even as early as 2016.

In my article, “Drug Mule Politics” (April 6, 2011), I wrote: “China makes no bones that it is building her military forces.  Recently, her government announced that it will increase its defense spending by 12.7 percent or $91.5 billion (601 billion Yuan), which would go toward ‘appropriate’ military hardware and salary increases for the 2.3 million-strong People’s Liberation Army, the world’s biggest armed forces.”

But China needs oil to maintain her large armed forces.  With less than 30 days of strategic oil reserves -- compared to the United States’ 60 days’ reserves and unlimited source of domestic and Canadian oil -- China could run out of oil reserves in 10 days in time of war.  It is interesting to note that Germany was doomed to lose the war when the Allies started bombing Germany’s oil fields and refineries.  

Cognizant that she cannot be a superpower without sufficient supply of oil, China is desperately exploring for oil in an area that is close to home -- the Spratlys.  With the Spratlys’ large oil reserves -- estimated at 213 billion barrels, which is bigger than Saudi Arabia’s 200 billion barrels -- China could become self-sufficient in oil if she took possession of the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) and East China Sea.

Is history going to repeat itself?

By Perry Diaz

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