CLARK AIR BASE, Pampanga: President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed optimism that an international tribunal will rule in favor of the Philippines in its historic case filed against China over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“We remain optimistic that the judgment will be in our favor,” Duterte said in a speech during the 69th Philippine Air Force anniversary on Tuesday.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, The Netherlands, is set to announce its ruling on the case on July 12.
Duterte said favorable or not, the Philippine government will accept the arbitral court’s decision.
“We will accept it as part of a country who honors international commitments that is by the Unclos [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea],” the President added.
He reiterated that the Philippines will not go to war because it cannot afford to do so.
“Let’s talk. We are not prepared to go to war. War is a dirty word now but we will proceed accordingly after we shall have the copy of the arbitral judgment,” the President said.
“We will always decide for the greater interest of the country,” he added.
Also on Tuesday, Beijing was urged to prepare for “military confrontation” in the South China Sea as it began naval drills in the area ahead of the international tribunal’s ruling over the maritime dispute.
China asserts sovereignty over almost all of the resource-rich strategic waterway despite rival claims from Southeast Asian neighbors — raising tensions with the United States, which has key defense treaties with many allies in the region.
Also on Tuesday, China began a week of naval exercises in waters around the Paracel Islands.
The exercises come a week before the United Nations-backed tribunal in The Hague rules on a case brought by the Philippines challenging China’s position.
Beijing has boycotted hearings and is engaged in a major diplomatic and publicity drive to try to delegitimize the process.
In an editorial, Global Times — a newspaper owned by the People’s Daily group that often takes a nationalistic tone — said China should accelerate the build-up of its defense capabilities and “must be prepared for any military confrontation.”
“Even though China cannot keep up with the US militarily in the short-term, it should be able to let the US pay a cost it cannot stand if it intervenes in the South China Sea dispute by force,” it added.
In recent years, Beijing had rapidly built up reefs and outcrops into artificial islands with facilities capable of military use.
Manila lodged its suit against Beijing in early 2013, saying that after 17 years of negotiations it had exhausted all political and diplomatic avenues to settle the dispute.
The arbitration case had been orchestrated by the Philippines and the US to portray China as “an outcast from a rules-based international community,” said an editorial in China Daily.
The newspaper, which is published by the government, added, “It is naive to expect China to swallow the bitter pill of humiliation.”