China / Government

Whipping up Philippine nationalism a dangerous game

(Xinhua) Updated: 2015-06-15 20:22

BEIJING -- The Philippines is maneuvering its dispute with China in the South China Sea into an issue of national pride.

President Benigno Aquino made an outrageous comparison of China to Nazi Germany in a speech to the Japanese parliament earlier this month. Last week the Philippine government played the nationalist card by portraying itself as a victim in a documentary on the South China Sea aired on a government TV channel. Such a dangerous nationalist game requires meticulous care if regional stability is not to be threatened.

Co-produced by the Foreign Ministry and president's office, the documentary, "Kalayaan" (Freedom), was aired Friday to coincide with the independence day holiday.

The documentary rather fancifully summarized numerous ways the disputes with China had affected the archipelago's activities in the South China Sea. With stirring background music and a montage of various "victims" bellyaching about their innumerable grievances, the narrator directly blamed China for reducing the income of Philippine fishermen since the 2012 stand-off, in which both sides urged each other to pull out their vessels back from the Huangyan Islands.

The documentary also showed China as a bully and questioned China's rights over the South China Sea, in the name of "historical, economic and legal" perspective.

Joselito Kakilala, speaking on behalf of the Philippine military, said the purpose of the documentary was "to raise awareness about our territorial claim. Our countrymen must realize the importance of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) territories. We must be united in supporting the government's position in resolving the dispute peacefully."

The Philippine government seems to have confused patriotism and nationalism, escalating the anti-China sentiments while does nothing to resolve the disputes.

On the same day that the "documentary" aired, a few hundred Philippine protestors marched on the Chinese Consulate in Manila carrying "Hands off the Philippines" placards and decrying China's claims to the South China Sea.

History has shown that once whipped up, nationalism can be difficult to contain. In 2014, the Vietnam government approved anti-China protests and protesters indiscriminately attacked Chinese companies and Chinese people who had nothing whatsoever to do with the disputes at the heart of the matter, even going so far as to set fire to South Korean factories, one assumes by mistake. The protests caused several deaths.

Runaway nationalism will surely backfire at a time when the Philippine government claims to want to solve disputes through diplomatic methods. Nationalists have a habit of branding governments weak if leaders do not resort to force.

It is understandable that Aquino may entertain the idea that nationalism can compensate the historical and legal weakness of his case against China. What is more difficult to see is how whipping up internal tensions in his own country will reduce regional tensions beyond Aquino's borders, or indeed benefit him at home.

Aquino would do well to listen to the sage advice of China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, discard his illusions, cease his provocation and return to the negotiating table.

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