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Ecology’s power to unite

While guarded confidence was evident between China and the Philippines in the not-so-distant past, distrust now is the predominant sentiment.

China has publicly declared that it is now in a confrontational phase of relations — from cooperation — with the Philippines after it was accused of “massive coral harvesting” that introduced a new dimension of China being an environmental villain, which Beijing resents.

The issue arose after the recent swarming of Chinese militia vessels at Iroquois Reef and the faceoff between the China Coast Guard and a Philippine Navy supply boat.

The trading of barbs is bordering on comical as China is now accusing the Philippines of polluting the waters around Ayungin Shoal, which it claims. It has reiterated its demand to tow the beached landing vessel from the area.

Beijing resents the accusation that it is engaged in environmental destruction as it branded the allegations of Vice Admiral Albert Carlos, head of the AFP Western Command, as “baseless.”

The fact remains that the resources at the reef have been decimated.

AFP surveillance monitored Chinese maritime militia vessels in the area on 6 and 7 September.

Honor and dignity are jealously guarded in Chinese tradition, and losing face is a painful experience.

China has painstakingly made efforts to be recognized as a responsible nation regarding the environment. The accusation that it is damaging marine resources directly hits its international reputation.

The campaign to uplift its international image cuts across all fields, and the goal is to approximate the leadership role on the global stage.

China had a measure of success during the term of Donald Trump when the former US president pulled his country from the international stage and focused on domestic concerns.

For instance, the US left a huge vacuum in international trade, as Trump abandoned free trade agreements in his belief that these were disadvantageous to domestic industries.

Chinese President Xi Jinping stepped in and offered to lead the free market regime despite the seeming paradox of a communist nation leading a capitalist movement.

Then came the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration award that practically debunked the nine-dash line historical claim that Beijing uses to stake its claim to the entire South China Sea.

“Xi Jinping has lost face here, and it will be difficult for China to do nothing,” Bonnie S. Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said after handing down the arbitral award.

“I expect a very tough reaction from China since it has lost on almost every point. There is virtually nothing that it has won,” she added.

She was right; China tightened its grip over its claimed territories by employing more aggressive moves to assert its declared jurisdiction.

While guarded confidence was evident between China and the Philippines in the not-so-distant past, distrust now is the predominant sentiment.

The uncertainty is mainly the result of the clashing points of view since the Philippines and its allies want China to comply with international rules that Beijing considers an imposition by the West.

Both nations submit, however, to international norms in saving the environment, including the preservation of the riches of the seas.

China, for example, is the world’s largest investor in renewable energy, particularly solar and wind power. It has implemented large-scale afforestation and reforestation programs to combat desertification and soil erosion.

While there are debates on its real intent, it has declared huge areas in the West Philippine Sea as Marine Protected Areas to conserve marine ecosystems and biodiversity. These areas restrict or regulate human activities such as fishing, mining, and industrial development to ensure the sustainability of marine resources.

China has ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change and has been working towards achieving its commitments.

The protagonists in the maritime conflict can start from the common objective of protecting the seas by negotiating a de-escalation instead of pitting war exercises one after the other in the area of conflict.

Protecting the environment is a cohesive issue that nobody can disagree with since it involves humanity’s existence.

China also can assert its leadership in this field since the United States has proven to be a tentative supporter of the global pact.

Credit belongs to: tribune.net.ph

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