Is Duterte squandering The Hague victory to appease Beijing? | South China Sea News

A few days before Monday’s fifth anniversary of the 2016 ruling in The Hague that rejected China’s historic claims against the most controversial South China Sea, Teodoro Losin Jr., Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines It sounds very celebratory, praising this occasion as “a milestone in the international French corpus”.

“The Philippines is proud to contribute to the rules-based international order,” he said of Manila’s role in challenging Beijing in the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Locsin ridiculed China, saying that this decision “makes Nine segments; And any expectation that possession is nine-tenths of the law. “

Locsin then quoted the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s video speech at the UN General Assembly. The Philippine leader stated in his speech that the case “is beyond the scope of compromise and beyond the scope of the previous government. The scope cannot be diluted, reduced or abandoned”.

But since taking office in 2016, Duterte has generally been less confident—despite a landmark victory, but failed to challenge China’s move to expand its maritime dominance in the region—foreign policy experts said his “ Defeatist speech” damaged the integrity of the country and weakened its legal status.

Chester Cabalza, the president and founder of Manila, said: “Manila certainly missed the opportunity to make a unified narrative of its claims… Beijing sees it as demonstrating its strength and establishing the largest coast guard. And the maritime militia to give full play to its strategic advantages.”-International development and security cooperation based on think tanks.

“On the contrary, the Filipino heard the defeatist comments of the commander-in-chief because he remained silent about China’s continued invasion of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ),” he told Al Jazeera.

Collinke, a researcher at the Institute of Defense and Strategy of Singapore, said that the Duterte administration “wasted opportunities” and emphasized the importance of the decision “should it do it alone or in cooperation with like-minded external parties”, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United States.

‘Victory Day’

In July 2016, less than two weeks after Duterte assumed office, the Hague Tribunal concluded in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS): The historic rights claimed by China within its “nine-dash line” and maritime rights over most of the South China Sea have no legal basis..

The ruling also confirmed the Philippines’ jurisdiction over its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which is 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) from its coast. Therefore, China’s fishing activities and the construction of artificial islands in this area are regarded as infringements on the sovereignty of the Philippines. The Philippines refers to this specific area as the West Philippine Sea.

In addition, the court ruled that none of the disputed South China Sea islands and reefs-even those controlled by Beijing-were not considered “livable” and capable of maintaining economic activities in their original form, and therefore were not entitled to exclusive rights. Economic zone-therefore clearly belongs to the Philippines exclusive economic zone.

Protesters poured into the Chinese Consulate in Manila in 2019 to oppose the Asian superpower’s growing influence in the Philippines and Beijing’s escalating tensions in the disputed South China Sea [File: Ted Aljibe/AFP]

To commemorate this year’s ruling, Philippine Senator Risa Hontiveros proposed that the country declare July 12 as the National Victory Day in the West Philippine Sea.

In a statement to Al Jazeera, she said that Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III– People who died last month -He should also be commended for his decision to accept China and obtain a “milestone legal victory”.

“Even when the Philippines opposed the giant China, he only pursued the case based on the principle of doing so.”

Protests are also expected to occur outside the Chinese diplomatic mission in Manila on Monday.

China has repeatedly stated that it does not recognize the 2016 ruling, and Continue to expand its artificial islands on Mischief Reef and Scarborough Shoal, Manila lost to Beijing in 2012.

Duterte’s tricks

When Duterte ran for president in 2016, he attracted voters with his tough stance on China. During an election campaign, he promised to take a motorboat in the South China Sea to challenge China’s invasion of Philippine waters. He said he always wanted to die like a hero.

But as soon as he took office, Duterte began to abandon his promise, saying that the Philippines could not bear China because confrontation would only lead to bloodshed.

In an interview with Al Jazeera in October 2016Duterte also stated that his jet ski remarks are “exaggerated” and he can’t even swim. He later said that all this was to show his “bluffing” and “joking”, and only “stupid” people would believe it.

Duterte admitted shockingly in June 2019 that he had reached an oral agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2016 to allow China to fish in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, even though the constitution stipulates that the country must protect its marine wealth. Including the exclusive economic zone, and “reserved only for the use and enjoyment of Filipino citizens.”

In recent months, Chinese ships believed to be piloted by Chinese maritime militiamen have been seen in the South China Sea in the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines [File: Philippine Coast Guard/Handout via Reuters]

“This is a mutual agreement,” Duterte explained. “Let us make way for each other. You fish there, I fish here.”

Duterte emphasized in many public speeches that, through direct investment, financial assistance and loans, a better relationship with China has brought economic dividends to the Philippines.

Salvador Panello, Duterte’s spokesman at the time, defended the deal, saying that although it was “verbal,” it was still “valid and binding.”

But Panelo’s successor, Harry Rock, said in April this year that the deal was “without factual basis” and “completely speculation”.

“There is no such a treaty or agreement between the Philippines and China,” Rock said, explaining that even a fisheries agreement “can only be reached through a treaty and in writing.”


Amid the diplomatic hesitation of the Duterte administration, the situation in the South China Sea reached its peak earlier this year, when several reports showed that Hundreds of Chinese ships gathered in the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.

The “flooding incident” has since repeated itself many times, triggering many diplomatic protests in Manila, condemning Beijing for “blatantly ignoring” its promise to “promote regional peace and stability.”

In May of this year, the appearance of hundreds of Chinese ships angered Lochin, the top diplomat of the Philippines, so much so that he made an expletive statement on social media.

“China, my friend, how polite can I say? Let me see…oh… Go off,” Losin wrote on Twitter.

According to reports, since 2016, Manila has lodged more than 120 diplomatic protests to China over incidents in the disputed waters.

still, Duterte is still reluctant to confront China.

In recent months, he expressed his desire to maintain friendly relations with China on the grounds that Manila expressed “gratefulness” for Beijing’s assistance in providing the coronavirus vaccine. After major security and diplomatic officials criticized China for swarming, he also banned his cabinet from talking about the South China Sea.

However, despite Duterte’s efforts to please Beijing, observers say that China is only further “daring and reckless.” The increasing tensions now leave Manila no choice but to take action to maintain its legal status in the South China Sea.

Kabarza, a security analyst based in Manila, said that now is not the time for the Duterte administration to be “capricious in foreign policy” and urge a “more strategic” approach to balance the country’s economic and security interests.

“China’s art of war and deception should not be taken for granted.”

He urged the Philippines to “rapidly advance” its military modernization plan “to increase its presence in the air and sea areas” and prevent China’s invasion.

“If Manila seriously considers balanced and fearless engagement with Beijing, it needs to be able to strengthen a strong national security infrastructure to deal with China’s gray zone strategy and a large amount of disinformation,” he said, adding that Manila should also Continue to file a diplomatic protest every time an invasion occurs.

South China Sea “finished a deal”

Koh, a foreign affairs analyst at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, also pointed out that for many years, the Philippines has been lagging behind in the “strengthening” of its military capabilities to carry out “stronger” maritime patrols in its exclusive economic zone.

Koh said that if Duterte had not spared no effort to gradually destroy its decades-long alliance with the United States, Manila could have partially solved the problem. Since taking office, Duterte has shown disdain for the United States and even pretended that he might become a target of the CIA.

“Publicly expressing the desire to prioritize relations with Beijing-even at the cost of the 2016 awards, the lack of political will to maintain a durable maritime presence and alliance with the United States will have a combined effect of inspiring Beijing,” he said. Explain to Al Jazeera.

Xu said that as China makes progress in strengthening artificial islands in the South China Sea, it is “unimaginable” that it will “voluntarily give up” these properties in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

“Apart from using force to expel the Chinese from those man-made outposts, there is no way to reverse the fait accompli, which means war.”

Koh added that without resorting to armed conflict, the Philippines may still maintain its maritime sovereignty and rights by adopting a “principled and consistent position” on this issue.

He said that the Philippines should carry out daily maritime law enforcement operations and patrols in its exclusive economic zone.

“The recent challenge and dispersal of Chinese and other foreign fishing boats by the Philippine Coast Guard in the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone near Sabina Shoal and Mary Louise Bank is a good example,” Xu said.

“These actions may not force China to change its behavior in the South China Sea, but they may at least help prevent Beijing from considering more drastic actions to further undermine the status quo.”

In May, after the Philippines issued a radio challenge, the Chinese ship also left the Sabina Shoal.

Opposition Senator and critic of Duterte’s South China Sea policy, Honti Viros said that the radio challenge shows that “the Philippines can maintain our ownership of the West Philippine Sea without resorting to war.”

Kabarza, a foreign affairs expert who studied at the Beijing National Defense University, said that as a middle power country caught in increasingly fierce competition between China and the United States, the lesson of Manila is to pursue an independent foreign policy.

“Manila should choose its own national interests. Relying on its own capabilities to build it with the vision of protecting national sovereignty and territorial integrity requires courage.”

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