The Philippines “does not have the capability” to stop China from reclaiming Scarborough (Panatag) shoal, a senior Filipino diplomat admitted on Tuesday.
In a roundtable interview with foreign reporters in Manila, Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Cuisia Jr. expressed hope that the international community will be able to persuade China to stop its unilateral moves in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) where Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.
Citing a report from US Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson, Cuisia said a Chinese survey ship was spotted on the shoal, which the Philippines also calls Bajo de Masinloc, a few weeks ago in what could be a prelude to Beijing’s attempt to turn the shoal into another artificial island.
China has already turned seven reefs into new islets as it insists its historical claim over nearly the entire West Philippine Sea.
Cuisia said China’s island-making spree “will be very provocative” and “will further escalate the tensions and the conflict.”
The US and China are set to have a strategic bilateral meeting in early June and this could be an opportunity for Washington to convince China not to proceed with the reclamation activities, the envoy added.
Cuisia said he was part of the talks when the US State department brokered a deal for the Philippines and China to simultaneously withdraw from Scarborough shoal to deescalate the tension in 2012 when Philippine and Chinese vessels had a face-off.
“I think we were successful in doing that but the problem is precisely the Chinese vessel did not leave that area anymore after that,” the ambassador noted.
“China breached that agreement and China was saying, ‘What agreement?’ as if they were not part of it,” he said. “We were shortchanged.”
China’s refusal to withdraw its ships prompted the Philippines to file a case before the The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in 2013 to affirm its right to areas within 200 nautical miles of its coastline, under the terms of a United Nations convention.
Cuisia said China has to honor the upcoming ruling of the tribunal if it does not want “to be pictured as a rogue nation.”
“China values its reputation in the international community. They are a rising power and of course they would like to enjoy the respect of the international community,” he added.
Cuisia also admitted that it would be “unrealistic” for China to sit down with the Philippines to settle the dispute diplomatically any time soon.
“Maybe it will take a number of years before we get to that point, but hopefully China will realize that it is to their interest to resolve the issue peacefully in a manner that is mutually satisfactory because it cannot be just one-sided,” he said.