WE wish President-elect Rodrigo Duterte could really just jet ski to the Spratlys in the West Philippine (South China) Sea, plant the Philippine flag there and, voila, the headache that China is giving us would be over.
Jet skis are not made to speed through the possibly shark-infested waters of the South China Sea. A fast boat would have to pull jet skier President Duterte to the Spratly islands where he intends to land.
Besides, the Chinese Coast Guard, which is as formidable as the Navy of the People’s Liberation Army, might just take preemptive action to stop our President Duterte from entering our sovereign territory, which to the CCG is their country’s supposedly sovereign territory.
The jet-ski plan is actually just one of the President-elect’s usual braggadocio-for-laughs talk.
His jet-ski joke makes short shrift of the formal Philippines vs China arbitration case we brought to the UN to seek a declaration that China’s “nine-dotted line” claim over the South China Sea is illegal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
What President-elect Duterte apparently really wants is for our country and China to hold bilateral negotiations over South China (West Philippine) Sea issues and resolve the festering row between us and Beijing over waters under which vast gas and oil reserves plus other riches are believed to exist. This means he will have to change the now internationally known official Philippine position that the contentious maritime issues are better resolved through multilateral negotiations or brought to the proper international tribunals.
A one-on-one dialogue between Manila and Beijing would also betray our endorsement of the declared position of Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), of which we are a founding member, that these matters be dealt with by the association as a body.
That multilateral policy imperative was reiterated on Tuesday not by the Philippines or the four other claimants to WPS/SCS territorial waters—Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan—but by the United States.
On the second day of his three-day visit to Vietnam on Tuesday, US President Barack Obama told the people of Vietnam, “More broadly, the 20th century has taught all of us, including the United States and Vietnam, that the international order upon which our mutual security depends is rooted in certain rules and norms.”
China certainly flouts the rules and norms, bullying its way to stamp its supposed jurisdiction over the South China Sea, detaining Filipino fishermen, reclaiming from the sea and building airstrips on the new man-made islands.
The United States is not a claimant to the contested waters but has “pivoted” to Asia in a move seen as a “rebalance” to the continent, not to mention in particular the South China Sea across which flows annually a $3-trillion trade.
Pushing his case against China, to which Obama only alluded, he also told the Vietnamese, “(W)e will stand with partners in upholding core principles, like freedom of navigation and overflight and lawful commerce that is not impeded, and the peaceful resolution of disputes through legal means, in accordance with international law.”
We are confident that when President-elect Duterte takes office, he will see that it will serve our country’s interests better to face China in a multilateral discussion about these maritime disputes than for us to go it alone.
We can and should, however, eagerly hold bilateral dialogues with China on other matters, like increasing commercial, technological and other fields of relations.