We sincerely thank The Hague arbitral tribunal for its fair decision on the Philippines vs. China maritime case on the Spratly Islands, a monumental outcome the effects of which will be felt far into the future.
Immediately after the announcement, Filipino and Vietnamese groups held a joint celebration along Roxas Boulevard on Tuesday, complete with balloons and victory signs. Some of the signs read: “Congratulations to the PH’s victory,” “Vietnam supports peaceful solution to disputes,” and “Tribunal rulings: fair and objective.”
Japan, also wary of China’s intrusions into other nations’ waters, released a statement welcoming the result. “Japan strongly expects that the parties’ compliance with this award will eventually lead to the peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea,” said Japan Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida last Tuesday.
(By the way, it’s the West Philippine Sea, not that other name, all right? Thank you. From now on, I will be using WPS bracketed in other people’s quotes in lieu of SCS.)
Former President Benigno Aquino III, called by some the “chief architect” of foreign policy that led to this historic case, and who has consistently reiterated Philippine sovereignty over the disputed territory, said the decision “…establishes better conditions that enable countries to engage each other, bearing in mind their duties and rights within a context that espouses equality and amity.”
The key words in these three instances are peace, equality, and amity.
It is therefore disappointing and alarming, although it is to be expected, that China rejected The Hague’s decision. Their foreign ministry declared it “null and void,” “a farce,” and “not legally binding.” The Chinese ambassador to the United States warned: “It will certainly undermine or weaken the motivation of states to engage in negotiations and consultations for solving their dispute. It will certainly intensify conflicts and even confrontation.”
Taiwan, which also insists on ownership of an island in the Spratly chain, was furious when The Hague tribunal classified Taiping island a “rock,” and therefore not entitled to an exclusive economic zone on it nor to the waters around it. Taiwan launched a warship to Taiping rock on Wednesday to “defend their territory.”
Ahead of time, we certainly knew that China (and apparently, Taiwan) would not back down on their position especially now that they have lost major global face. We also knew that we would have to brace ourselves for the impact—and these aggressive words and actions are only the smallest of initial salvos.
China, however, should reflect its belligerent stance. It has enough problems of its own. Once the fastest-growing economy in the world on the strength of its manufacturing capacity, it is now experiencing its biggest slowdown in seven years, down to 6.6 percent in the second quarter as its industrial sector declines. The yuan dipped to its lowest rate in the last five and a half years.
Analysts say the Chinese economy will lose further momentum in the last two quarters of the year.
Air pollution is so bad in Beijing and other cities that people buy fresh air in cans. They have problems with food safety—plastic rice, melamine in milk. Illegal drug use is rife—according to a 2015 New York Times article by Dan Levin, drugs in China are an $82-billion business, with an estimated 13 million addicts, half of whom are suspected of using methamphetamine (shabu).
Given these problems and others, can China sustain a war against the world? Or—probably worse—a boycott of its goods and services? China would do better to concentrate on fixing its home rather than encroaching on foreign lands and waters.
As Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop warned, if China does not respect the arbitral court’s decision, “There would be strong reputational costs. China seeks to be a regional and global leader and requires friendly relations with its neighbors. That’s crucial to it’s rise.”
The Hague’s decision gives the Philippines an extra advantage in resolving this territorial and economic dispute. It was hard-fought and we must not let our gains from this slip.
That is why Acting Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay’s recent statements on the matter to foreign and local press are disturbing. He seems bent on appeasing China at all costs. Why? As for President Duterte’s statement that he would press for infrastructure projects with China. Again, why?
China is a big bully. We cannot buckle down and have them walk all over us. Whatever happens, we must stand firm and never give up our rights.
While we strongly support peaceful and amicable measures to resolve this issue, Yasay and Duterte’s seemingly pro-China attitudes are a bend in the wrong direction. Any actions that the present government might take that will favor China will result in a protest by the people.
The West Philippine Sea is part of our home. The Hague’s decision is a step towards establishing our sovereignty in our territories. Let us not render this for naught.
Facebook: Jenny Ortuoste, Twitter: @jennyortuoste, Instagram: @jensdecember