Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Wednesday urged the international community to press China to freeze its land reclamation work in the South China Sea, likening Beijing’s actions in the region to those of Nazi Germany in the run-up to World War II.
“If stability is a necessary prerequisite to prosperity for all, and if prosperity for all our peoples is the be-all and end-all of any government, then perhaps they should re-examine all of these efforts and see whether or not this is necessary given the increasing tensions that are happening because of these activities,” Aquino said in a speech in Tokyo.
“America and Japan both talked about their concerns, and this voice is also seconded by the European Union and various other countries,” the president said, referring to China’s land reclamation in the region.
“We are thankful because . . . if every country had chosen to remain silent on this particular issue, perhaps that might have been encouraged them to even accelerate their reclamation efforts going on because they might have said ‘nobody seems to care, we will do what we want.’ “
Aquino was making his sixth visit to Japan since taking the presidency in 2010. The visit comes as China flexes its growing maritime muscle in the South China Sea.
Beijing claims sovereignty over almost all of the sea, while nations such as the Philippines and Malaysia have overlapping claims.
When asked about the role the United States is playing in the Asia-Pacific, Aquino said the U.S. presence serves as a deterrence to the expansion by other countries.
“If there was a vacuum, if the United States, which is the superpower, says ‘we are not interested,’ then perhaps there is no brake to ambitions of other countries,” he said.
Aquino went on to compare present-day China with Nazi Germany, which pressed for territorial conquests around the time of the outbreak of World War II.
“I’m an amateur student of history and I’m reminded of, just watching several documentaries on World War II, especially how Germany was testing the waters and what the response was by various other European powers,” he said.
“They tested the waters and they were ready to back down if, for instance in that aspect, France said stop,” Aquino told the audience. “But unfortunately, up to the annexation of the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia . . . the annexation of the entire country of Czechoslovakia, nobody said stop.
“The commentators on these documentaries were saying what if somebody said ‘stop’ to (Adolf) Hitler at that point in time, or to Germany at that time, could we have avoided World War II? That is a question that still occupies the thoughts of so many individuals,” Aquino said.
Aquino’s speech was organized by Nikkei Inc. and the Japan Center for Economic Research.
The president arrived in Tokyo on Tuesday for a four-day state visit. He is scheduled to hold a summit with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday in which the two are expected to boost bilateral defense and security ties.
Japan is one of the Philippines’ two strategic partners, along with the United States.
Aquino is also slated to attend a contract-signing ceremony for 10 patrol boats to be delivered to the Philippine coast guard. The contract is between the Philippines’ Department of Transportation and Communications and the Japan Marine United Corp.
Later in the day at a Diet speech before Japanese lawmakers, Aquino described Japan and the Philippines as the “most vocal defenders” of peace and stability in the region and said the balance in East and Southeast Asia “is being disrupted.”
“The prosperity of maritime and coast East and Southeast Asia, which relies greatly on the free movement of goods and peoples, is at risk of being disrupted by attempts to redraw the geographic limits and entitlements outside those clearly bestowed by the law of nations,” Aquino said.
Aquino’s words were taken to be alluding to China’s recent muscle-flexing in the South China Sea, although he did not accuse any country by name.
“Perhaps I may share with you a question that I posed to a country that we both have had difficulties with: If all governments are there to serve the people from whom they derive their power, is it not incumbent up on all to maintain stability, which is a necessary prerequisite for prosperity?” he said.
The president also said his country is “following with utmost interest and great respect” the ongoing deliberations at the Diet that would allow Japan to take “a more proactive stance in fulfilling its responsibilities to the international community for the maintenance of peace.”
Aquino was apparently referring to security-related bills Prime Minister Abe recently submitted to the Diet to expand the scope of the Self-Defense Forces’ overseas activities.