THE Philippines will not be raising the landmark arbitration ruling that gave Manila a victory over Beijing’s expansive claims in the South China Sea, President Rodrigo Duterte said Thursday.
Saying that Manila’s arbitration victory over Beijing is a “non-issue” when he meets with nine other Southeast Asia leaders this week, Duterte said that only the thing he would be raising as Asean chair would be the Code of Conduct for Parties in the South China Sea, which Manila wants completed this year.
“We cannot, on our own, enforce the judgement of the arbitral tribunal. Stop dreaming about [the] arbitral [ruling.] You cannot… Unless we are prepared to go to war,” Duterte said at the sidelines of Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah’s state visit this year.
“I will skip the arbitral ruling. It is not an issue here in the Asean,” he said, adding that the arbitral tribunal’s ruling was a matter between China and the Philippines.
He added that Beijing has already decided to ignore the arbitration ruling.
“If you go there and make noise, will they listen?” he said in Filipino. “China said it’s completely ignoring the arbitral. So what more can you ask of it? Make noise? For what?” the President said.
Duterte made these pronouncements as the National Security Council said that it has finished the first stage of marine scientific research in the West Philippine Sea.
In a statement, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said that the inter-agency effort is “purely scientific” in line with the country’s responsibilities under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
“Among the activities under the MSR includes NAMRIA’s hydrographic surveys that would aid in the formulation of a nautical map for navigational safety, and DENR/UP-MSI’s reef assessment studies of the Kalayaan Island Group, Western Palawan Shelf, and Tubbataha,” Esperon said.
In the latest revision of the 20-page draft chairman’s statement proposed by Laos, excerpts of which were obtained by Manila Standard through sources, the issue of China’s reclamation and militarization of disputed land features in the disputed waters were removed despite the strong emphasis given to them during the 28th and 29th Asean Summits held in Vientiane last year.
The latest draft also emphasized the “full respect for legal and diplomatic processes” without any talk of arbitral award, the same language used in the chairman’s statement during the Lao PDR chairmanship.
“We reaffirmed our shared commitment to maintaining and promoting peace, security and stability in the region, as well as to the peaceful resolution of disputes, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force, in accordance with the universally recognised principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea UNCLOS,” drafts of the joint communiqué, expected to be finalized over the course of meetings of the Asean Summit, read.
The draft chairman’s message would instead underscore the importance of “peace, stability, security, and freedom of navigation,” and would urge all sea claimants to settle territorial disputes in a peaceful manner.
If current discussions on the draft are any indication, the line which emphasized the leaders’ “serious concern expressed by some leaders over recent developments and escalation of activities in the area which may further raise tensions and erode trust and confidence in the region,” would also be omitted.
Since Manila filed the arbitration case in 2013, Beijing has scrambled to convert rocks and reefs into man-made islands and has reportedly installed surface-to-air missiles—only to be stopped after Manila moved towards an apparent soft stance towards Beijing.
China claims it owns the South China Sea—a major trading route believed to be rich in natural gas—nearly in its entirety, undermining the claims of its smaller Southeast Asian neighbors like the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
In a news briefing at Beijing, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that the “the situation in the South China Sea is cooling down,” saying that the 10-nation regional bloc “have returned to the right track.”
“The relevant parties have returned to the right track of resolving disputes through negotiations and consultations, and are fully and effectively implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea [DOC] as well as actively advancing the consultation on a COC,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang said.
Meanwhile, maritime law experts called on Asean leaders to cite the arbitral decision that gave the Philippines victory against China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea.
“It’s important that the arbitral ruling is mentioned, that it’s acknowledged and that it’s discussed,” said Professor Jay Batongbacal, a maritime law expert at the University of the Philippines who tracks the South China Sea dispute.
De La Salle University Political Science Professor Richard Heydarian also said Manila should leverage on its Asean chairmanship by doing “some revisions to the statement.”
“I am more than certain that we can find a goldilocks compromise, whereby we don’t need to fully alienate our friends in Beijing and Asean capitals, but at the same time nudge Asean centrality an inch forward,” Heydarian said.
Also on Thursday, a militant fishermen’s group, Pamalakaya, urged the President to raise the country’s territorial dispute with China at the Asean summit.
The 30th Asean summit will officially start on Friday in Manila, with leaders from the 10 Asean countries—Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam—gathering for three days, the Department of Foreign Affairs said.
Under the theme “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World,” the Asean leaders will discuss progress in the implementation of the Asean Vision 2025, as well as the regional bloc’s external relations and its future directions.
The heads of states of the Asean and their spouses will be feted on Saturday, April 29, to a night of Filipino cuisine and entertainent at the Asean Summit Gala Dinner at the Grand Ballroom of Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila.
Hosted by President Duterte, the gala dinner, themed “ Asean Fiesta,” will showcase the Filipinos’ innate warmth and hospitality as a people.
An estimated 800 guests composed of the Asean heads of states, their spouses, their respective delegations, members of the diplomatic corps, government officials and business leaders are expected to attend the occasion, depicting a sense of community, harmony and togetherness.
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