"The Philippine government must complete its re-pivot."
Tensions have reached new levels four years after the arbitral decision declared unlawful and without basis Beijing’s absurd “nine-dash line” territorial claim of 1.3 million square miles in the South China Sea (SCS). For several years, continuing buildup of military fortifications in several islands and the series of incursion incidents has created what geopolitical analysts warn as a deteriorating situation. It has been reported that Beijing will soon declare an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea revealing the readiness of their facilities to enforce air traffic control over the SCS and a clear imposition of the national authority.
This enables China to monitor and even rationalize any interception of all air traffic in the entire SCS. Military analysts point out that this move to gain control of the air is key in launching military operations. The implications are very serious as this threatens the air traffic and mercantile trade of the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
In violation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, Beijing has again ignored an ASEAN commitment “to avoid activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability” when military exercises were conducted in the Paracel Islands.
In a re-pivot from a very pro-China policy, President Duterte instructed the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement, a key operational element of the Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States, suspended. The United States welcomed the Philippines' decision which paves the way for "continued close security and defense cooperation with the Philippines."
If you recall, the arbitral victory which was applauded by the international community as a triumph in the rule of law was shelved by the current administration in an appeasement policy that set aside territorial integrity over promised economic concessions that up to now has not had any significant results especially for the government’s Build Build Build program.
As China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy proceeded with military drills in the Paracel islands, Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. issued an unexpected but fittingly strong warning, “Should the exercises spill over to Philippine territory then China is forewarned that it will be met with the severest response, diplomatic and whatever else is appropriate.” The Philippines also protested China’s naming of underwater features in the SCS and the creation of administrative districts with one claiming the Kalayaan Island Group in the Spratly islands.
A strong pushback statement against China was also delivered by the United States via a demonstration of military superiority with the conduct of dual carrier operations by the Nimitz Carrier Strike Force composed of the USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Groups in the South China Sea. Each carrier is supported by over 60 aircraft and escorted guided-missile cruisers and destroyers.
The US Navy stated that, "Nimitz and Reagan form the most effective and agile fighting force in the world, supporting US commitment to mutual defense agreements with regional allies and partners, and promoting peace and prosperity throughout the Indo-Pacific."
Washington has been increasing the pace of operations in the SCS with overflights by US Air Force heavy bombers, Freedom of Navigations operations skimming Chinese occupied islands and joint naval operations with Singapore and Japan. US-China relations have been deteriorating since the global pandemic outbreak from Wuhan early this year.
The cabbage tactics of Beijing to push forward its expansionists agenda and the multiple incidents of incursion has been denounced by a growing number of nations which includes: Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, the United States, and India with its ongoing border skirmishes with China’s People’s Liberation Army.
The arbitral award that our own government hesitates to assert is now being used by other ASEAN countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia to assert maritime rights under the rule of law challenging China’s expansionist moves in the SCS. Our arbitral victory is a law that all nations must respect and has become the unifying foundation for a strategic alliance of like-minded nations who believe in the values of a rules-based international order that nurtures the interlinked development of prosperous economic systems.
The 2016 ruling of the International Court of Arbitration affirms the Philippine territorial rights and has become an example for other ASEAN nations. The Philippine government must complete its re-pivoting by asserting our national interests and help solidify ASEAN and the international community to resist Beijing’s aggression.