Aquino's rhetoric is just provocative

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 June, 2015, 2:31am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 June, 2015, 2:31am

History should make leaders wiser and smarter in their decision-making. Philippine President Benigno Aquino has done the opposite by comparing China's island-building in the South China Sea to Nazi Germany's territorial expansionism. It is the second time in as many years that he has used such rhetoric and once more, Beijing is outraged. So it should be - such talk is irresponsible and unhelpful, doing nothing to ease tensions or find a solution to decades-old disputes over sovereignty.

Aquino appears to have pre-planned his comments: He made them in Tokyo shortly before signing a deal with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to strengthen defence ties. The Japanese leader last year also used an analogy of Europe's second world war experience to increase pressure over his country's territorial dispute with China, likening it to Nazi Germany and his nation to Britain. But there are no such similarities as Beijing is carrying out work in sovereign waters that are claimed by other governments. It has pledged to ensure the free passage of shipping and even offered to share the use of facilities like lighthouses.

Nor is China alone in reclaiming land and putting airstrips, military bases and citizens on them. The Philippines, like Vietnam, has been doing the same for years, at times with the help of the US. Washington claims to be an impartial bystander to the dispute, yet has also been beefing up its military links with Manila and has forged ties with Hanoi, a one-time enemy. American rhetoric aimed at China, including a threat to send warships to within 12 nautical miles of the Chinese islands and its recent overflying of them with a spy plane, are similarly unconstructive. Such actions increase the risk of a mishap.

The region needs cool heads and diplomacy, not provocations. Rhetoric that evokes images of war and defence deals, military exercises and arms sales heighten, not settle, disputes. Civilised talk and bilateral negotiations are the most sensible way forward.