MANILA - The escalating tension in the South China Sea is a "test of power and money" among all the nations that have a stake in the maritime dispute, particularly the United States and China, a Filipino security expert said on Tuesday.
"It's a test of power, money, everything. Everybody wants to defy China's actions but now it's all pronouncements," said Chester Cabalza, a professor at the National Defence College of the Philippines.
While the Philippines waits for the decision of the United Nations arbitration committee and maintains a status quo in the disputed areas, China "grabs its momentum," he said. "Nothing can stop them."
The US military may have pivoted to the Asia-Pacific and issued warnings to China, but Beijing will still have the upper hand, Cabalza said.
"I'm not saying they (China) will win in terms of war. No war will happen. But they will succeed in the plundering of resources as we can see now. By hook or by crook, they will get those resources," he said.
"The pressure is high-intensity but both countries cannot afford it, not in terms of defence. More likely, it would be a word war, not a world war. No arms would be involved, but harsh words, diplomatic protests, economic sanctions," Cabalza said.
The convening of the National Security Council (NSC) could be a pragmatic move for President Aquino to come up with a "national stand" as the situation worsens, he said.
Cabalza said that the NSC meeting would include Malacañang, former Presidents, representatives from the security sector, the maritime community, and even the private sector.
On Monday, President Aquino said that he had convened a "modified" NSC, inviting former Presidents Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada, where they discussed the Philippines' case against China before it was filed in the UN arbitral committee.
Also present were Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.
Aquino said he also tried to invite members of the judiciary "for their inputs" but they declined, saying the case might be brought before them.
"Although I am supposed to be the main architect for foreign policy, we have tried to get as many voices from the different branches of government to have different perspectives and come up with the best solution to this problem," the President said.
In an interview, Magdalo Rep. Francisco Ashley Acedillo also batted for the convening of the NSC to enable Aquino to "derive input from his Cabinet, from his congressional leaders, and former Presidents."
"The best time to prepare for an emerging crisis is before it happens," he said. "We should convene it before any flash point occurs in the West Philippine Sea."