Smooth Power on the South ChinaSea: A new approach towardsFriendship between China and thePhilippines

Posted by on January 4, 2024 in Recent Publications | 0 comments

Francis Michael C. Abad

This research delves into the multifaceted issues surrounding the contested regions
within the South China Sea and the intricate geopolitical dynamics at
play. In the aftermath of the Arbitral Tribunal’s ruling on UNCLOS, this paper
contends that China’s nine-dash line and claims to sovereignty over disputed
areas have faced challenges to their legitimacy. Recognizing the contemporary
global emphasis on the rule of law, the paper argues that China must reconsider
its approach, creating an opportune moment for the Philippines to fortify its
claims. While conventional realism and liberalism approach in International
Relations prove insufficient for resolving this complex matter, the same can be
said with the existing framework of International Law, which is bereft of an
institution mandated to enforce legal judgments. This article proposes a model
that holds potential benefits for both China and the Philippines. Analyzing the
foreign policy patterns of the Duterte administration, the study reveals the strategic
use of uncertainty to prevent conflict escalation. This strategic uncertainty,
the paper argues, can serve as a tool for the Philippines to attain a position of
relative equality with China. The suggested approach involves a phased strategy.
First, the Philippines must navigate the impasse by leveraging strategic uncertainty
to recalibrate its foreign policy, maintaining the status quo for itself.

Simultaneously, it should enhance legitimacy through collaborative networks
with other claimant states and seek alliances with major global powers such
as the US, Australia, Japan, Korea, and the EU, aligning with common interests.
In the second phase, as new alliances emerge and the Philippines achieves
a more balanced position, the nation can transition to establishing a genuine
friendship with China. Unlike traditional power models solely pursuing power
for its sake, this Smooth Power Approach seeks to utilize acquired power to foster
authentic friendships. An essential characteristic of smooth power is creating
an environment where co-optation through friendship becomes the target state’s
best interest. This approach breaks deadlocks by proposing mutually beneficial
solutions, sharing power with stakeholders, and avoiding coercion, all with the
ultimate goal of harmonizing interests and creating new shared objectives under
the Rules-based Order.

Link to the Article