THE Duterte administration’s pivot to China will bring about a change in perception on both sides, allowing a “modus vivendi” of “peace” at the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), the country’s next ambassador to China said on Thursday.
Jose Santiago “Chito” Sta. Romana, president of the Philippine Association of Chinese Studies, said the country’s foreign policy shift would allow cooperation with China without longstanding maritime disputes blocking the way.
“Before, we were aligned closely to one side – the US. What we’re doing now is not a swing all the way to China and a tight alignment to China, no. We still remain in the alliance with the US. What we’re doing is [a]separation of foreign policy from the US and the assertion of an independent foreign policy,” he said in a forum in Makati City.
Sta. Romana, a China analyst and veteran journalist, was named envoy to Beijing on September 28 and will undergo confirmation hearings at the Commission on Appointments.
He said the Duterte government’s China policy would have a two-track approach involving the separation of contentious issues from non-contentious ones. This means proceeding with non-contentious issues like economics, finance, culture, education and sports while discussing contentious issues one by one through quiet diplomacy.
The Philippines will no longer be viewed as a “geopolitical pawn” and “Trojan horse” of the United States’ “containment” policy, but as a “friendly neighbor” with an independent foreign policy, Sta. Romana said.
China, in turn, will not be viewed by the Philippines as a “national security threat” but as an “economic partner,” he said.
‘Modus vivendi’ at Panatag
With friendlier relations, the disputed West Philippine Sea will remain peaceful, Sta. Romana said.
Filipino fishermen will continue to fish at the resource-rich Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) and no Chinese reclamation will happen, he said.
“As long as the political relations are good, [the modus vivendi at Panatag]will stay, I think, because we have friendly relations right now,” Sta. Romana said.
But the government is studying how to pursue a formal agreement on the disputed fishing ground, he said.
“That’s part of the track,” Sta. Romana said. “What you do is make sure that the disputes don’t occupy front and center and block all other areas of cooperation.”
“We’re in the beginning of a long march. What happened at the Scarborough is just initial resolve, the initial gain that is very significant, something that was not achieved before. So I think we should view this as a sign of an optimistic path to move forward,” he added.