‘Creative solutions may resolve sea row’

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THE Philippines should start considering other creative solutions to resolving the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute because the country seems to be getting the raw end of the deal in its relationship with China, an ex-pert on Asian maritime affairs said.

Gregory Poling, director of the Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, said it was understanda-ble for President Rodrigo Duterte to reach out to China and try to see if the latter would be willing to change its strategy in the West Philippines Sea.

But it has been more than a year and only a few fishermen are being allowed by China to fish near the Panatag (Scarborough), he noted.

“The Chinese has not stopped building military facilities, the Chinese have not agreed to allow oil and gas explora-tion, they haven’t stop harassing Filipino fishermen, the coastguards and other ships of all the other claimant coun-tries in the Spratlys,” Poling said at the sidelines of the “Asean Leadership amid a New World Order” conference in Makati City on Wednesday.


He also expressed doubts on China’s multibillion-dollar investment pledge to the Philippines, as no money had been released yet.

Duterte took home $24 billion worth of loan and grant pledges from China in his visit to Beijing in October 2016.
It was likely that only 10 percent of the pledges would materialize, Poling said.

“Is it really worth it for two or three billion dollars of potential, very problematic investments, for the Philippines to entirely give up progress in the South China Sea?” he pointed out.

Poling said the strategy had been tried, and the Philippines and other claimant countries should admit that more creative solutions were needed to address the issue.

“It is time for Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) to stop waiting for China to set the tone of the rela-tionship,” he added.

The Philippine government must focus on capacity building and making sure that Filipino fishermen and coastguard vessels continue to operate in the dispute waters, he said.

A-long term diplomatic strategy should also be put in place to continue to put pressure on China.

Zone of trade

Some diplomacy and defense experts on Thursday lauded the Philippines for helping turn Southeast Asia into “a zone of cooperation and trade, instead of a region with intractable confrontation and conflicts.”

In a forum at the Kamuning Bakery Café in Quezon City, former Ambassador Alberto Encomienda, defense expert Brig. General Victor Corpus and geopolitics analyst and former Education undersecretary Butch Valdes said the Philippines, as chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), is now perceived as a non-aligned and independent nation.

Corpus said Duterte’s independent foreign policy has helped stabilize the region.

If the Philippines had followed the previous policy of a “win-loss” approach to the territorial dispute with China over the South China Sea, the country would have been at a loss because China did not participate in the arbitra-tion proceedings.

Corpus said it is best for the Philippines and China not to argue about sovereignty on overlapping legal and historic claims. He added that the two countries should instead pursue cooperation or the joint exploitation of natural or mineral resources and joint development of tourism in disputed areas.

Encomienda also lauded Duterte’s independent foreign policy, rejecting critics’ claims that the President is “incon-sistent.”

“In foreign policy, nothing is permanent, except the national interests of our country.” Encomienda said.

Valdes meanwhile said Duterte’s push for an independent foreign policy shall allow the Philippines to benefit from the world’s biggest transcontinental infrastructure development program led by China — the Belt and Road Initia-tive (BRI).

with Jing Villamente

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