Daily Star Opinions: Perspective with Matè Espina

Asserting sovereignty

Rock & Refuge

Indonesia is making waves, not only in Southeast Asia where it is becoming an acknowledged leader, but globally as well for standing up to super power China as the latter encroached in Indonesia’s territorial waters off Natuna islands, just some 684 miles from Spratly Islands.

No less than Indonesian President Joko Widodo went to the site and deployed military vessels and aircraft to assert their nation’s sovereignty, forcing China to back down after two weeks of tension in the area.

“Our sovereign territory when it comes to Natuna is non-negotiable,” Widodo was quoted as saying. “We have a district here, a regent, and a governor here,” he said. “There are no more debates. De facto, de jure, Natuna is Indonesia.”

China, of course, can actually pulverize any country they want too with their massive artillery and millions of military personnel. Indonesia wouldn’t stand a chance but the proud nation fearlessly sent thousands of fishing vessels even just to send a strong signal that they will not be cowered in fear and will defend their sovereignty at all cost.

Meanwhile, here in the Philippines, Vice Admiral Rene Medina told reporters that there were 38 stationary Chinese vessels surrounding the sandbars of Pag-asa and forwarded the report for appropriate diplomatic action.

Really? And I thought we have a President for a “strongman” whom many of his fans believe have the balls to defend our country’s sovereignty.

I can still remember that popular campaign response of riding the jetski to the disputed waters to defend our claims to the often excuse of “we are no match for China”, and so best to exploit economic loans with them.

Not even the intentional ramming of a Filipino fishing vessel, leaving the fishermen in waters who were fortunately rescued by a Vietnamese vessel, ruffled our officials who continue to sound like Beijing’s apologists.

President Widodo’s actions and that of Malaysia and Vietnam puts our country to shame especially since Indonesia actually used the United Nation’s decision in 2016 rejecting China’s claim in the South China Sea which was challenged by the Philippines.

Unfortunately, the crassness of our national government, from the President to the Foreign Minister are simply bravura in words towards others but not against Beijing…..and of course, many say there are a million (or is it billions?) reasons.

And it’s not just the Indonesian president or its military who are at the forefront of their battle for sovereignty. Apart from the fishermen who are ready to go to battle against the well-equipped Chinese, Indonesian nationals are adding their voice against Beijing’s aggression.

A report made mention of an influential Muslim Imam who called for a boycott of Chinese products and with half of Indonesia’s 267 million people Muslims, this call can be detrimental to Chinese businessmen who conduct trade with Indonesia.

If we recall, a similar incident of boycott and even looting of Chinese-owned businesses and burning down factories in Vietnam happened in 2014 to show their disgust when China set-up of an oil rig in disputed waters.

More recently, Vietnam also banned the showing of the animated film “Abominable” where filmmakers used a map acknowledging China’s claim in the South China Sea.

Even famous film star Jackie Chan cancelled his charity visit to Vietnam last November where he was involved in promoting Operation Smile after social media pages flooded with protest for the action star’s supposed support of China’s claim in disputed waters.

These actions may not be much but it sure does get attention at a global stage and highlights nation’s fearlessness over China. Meanwhile, everything is quiet here in the Philippines where Foreign Sec. Teddy Boy Locsin is busy challenging protestors outside of his office in a mauling match.

China has so much on its plate today, what with Hong Kong’s troubles also far from over and majority of the opposition has won the recent elections.

Of course no one wants war, least of all against China. But it is heartening to see nations (not us, obviously) stand up against its claim over the rich fishing grounds and energy reserves in the South China Sea, not to mention the bountiful trade route amounting to trillions in economic activities.

Meanwhile an article in social media over the killing of Spanish national, Diego Lafuente, in Siargao after an alleged buy-bust operation of cocaine has created a debate amongst expats living or visiting the Philippines.

Lafuente who owns three businesses in Siargao was tagged by local police as their number one drug personality in the area. Allegedly, the Spaniard drew out his pistol after the buy-bust leading to the police shooting him to death.

Early last year, villagers found 40 blocks of cocaine washed on the shores of a town in Siargao which is fast becoming a tourist destination, particularly for surfers.

However, friends of Lafuente are disputing police’s claims and tagged him as another victim of this administration’s extra-judicial killings. There are also calls among his friends to other European nationals to avoid visiting the Philippines.

“It seems it’s not safe anymore to visit the Philippines. Anyone can report you and get you killed. No trial. Genocidal,” said one Spaniard.

And that, my friends, is sadly the image we have in the global stage.*

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