Philippines Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay declined the offer made by his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi to engage in talks over the South China Sea.
The talks would have gone against The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitrationleadswhich last week had found no legal basis for China’s claims to the waters.
The judges approved the Philippines’ right to an exclusive economic zone reserved in the eastern region of the sea. China refused to participate in the proceedings, which came as no surprise when it rejected the ruling.
China seizes Scarborough Shoal
In 2012, Filipino fishermen were blocked from the Scarborough Shoal after China had taken the fishing region following disputes with the Philippines Government ships. It was this tension that led former President Benigno Aquino III to take the case against China to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2013.
Aquino relied on support from the US and allies against China due to weaker military forces in comparison to those of the Asian superpower. In addition, he called for heightened air force and naval fleets, which in turn increased tensions with the country.
Newly elected president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte seems to want to smoothen the rocky ties with China and during an election campaign stated that he would be willing to forget the disputes if China would finance railway projects in his country.
At the Asia-Europe meeting in Mongolia that took place last week, Yasay had told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that the ruling provided a legally-binding green light, according to a statement the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs gave on Saturday.
China disagreed with the arbitration for it feels that it goes against Asian values and is not a manner to peacefully settle international disputes. This opposition is in spite of the fact that the tribunal’s proceedings are by the United Nations Charter, and treaties on compulsory arbitration ratified among Asian nations, including the superpower itself. Simultaneously, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi reported showing interest in engaging in bilateral talks only if they were in disregard to the tribunal’s ruling.
“If you will insist on the ruling and discussing it along those lines, then we might be headed for a confrontation,” said Chinese officials, according to Yasay.
According to an alleged report given by China’s state media and posted in an article on Breitbart, the country issued a map highlighting the 70 nations that are in support of negotiations over forced arbitration. The claims are perceived to be false following an analysis by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which stated that eight countries had publicly confirmed their support. Four were in disagreement with China; 11, including the US and Japan, along with the European Union, had stated that the tribunal’s decision was legally-binding and called for the parties involved to respect the ruling; while 45 countries had not issued any public comment regarding the matter.
This would not be the first time international legal intervention sparked controversy. In 2015, the leader of one of China’s strongest allies in Africa, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, openly spoke against The International Criminal Court’s meddling in African affairs.
Although there are currently no reports of Presidents Duterte and Jingping having spoken since the ruling, it may still be a potential possibility that Manila and Beijing will perform negotiations outside of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s decision.
China to continue maritime construction
According to a report by China Daily, China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy Commander, Admiral Wu Shengli told US Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John Richardson, that it intends to protect its sovereignty from any provocation or military intimidation China may face on the waters. The Chinese Naval Commander stated that Beijing would go forth with its island and reef construction as intended and the degree of defense it will secure upon these islands will depend on potential threats.
China’s official news agency reported that the nation would regularly conduct combat air patrols and that it seeks militarily to close off parts of the South China Sea to conduct war drills, going against the tribunal’s ruling. According to the Daily Caller, such a decision may spark an air war above the sea with the US, who often navigates the waters and conducts surveillance flights over the Chinese military.
Although the Philippines’ power does not nearly match that of China and therefore may be subject to ‘bullying’ by the Asian giant, it is important to consider the interests of the parties who have openly applied pressure on both nations to conform to the tribunal’s ruling.
Source: The Wall Street Journal