INSTEAD of getting hysterical and agitated over President Xi Jinping’s alleged threat of war against the Philippines, it is more sensible to verify with the Chinese government or Xi Jinping whether China is indeed threatening war against the Philippines over our conflicting claims to parts of the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea.
The big row rests on President Duterte’s account of a conversation he had with Chinese officials, especially President Xi. DU 30 says China threatened to go to war over the maritime dispute if the Philippines began drilling for oil.
He says he told Chinese officials: “My view is that I can drill the oil if there is some inside the bowels of the earth, because it is ours.
“They answered: ‘Well, we are friends. We do not want to quarrel with you. We would want to maintain the present warm relationship. But if you force the issue, we will go to war’.”
In response to this, DU30 did not immediately ask President Xi: “Are you threatening us?” like most people would in response to a threat of violence.
Instead, he turned around and told the nation, “what can I do?”
It turns out that shrugging one‘s shoulders is the worst response in this situation. It tells China to go ahead take whatever you want in the disputed sea.
In truth, resignation is not the only option here for the Philippines. The Philippines can file a case at the United Nations if China has indeed threatened war against it.
According to Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, the Philippines can run to the UN tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to protect Philippine territory.
He said in a statement: “The threat of China to go to war against the Philippines if the Philippines extracts oil and gas in the Reed Bank, or in any area within the Philippine EEZ (exclusive economic zone) in the West Philippine Sea, is a gross violation of the United Nations Charter, UNCLOS, and the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia to which China and the Philippines are parties.”
“As a nation that under its Constitution has renounced war as an instrument of national policy, the Philippines’ recourse is to bring China’s threat of war to another UNCLOS arbitral tribunal, to secure an order directing China to comply with the ruling of the UNCLOS arbitral tribunal that declared the Reed Bank part of the Philippine EEZ,” he added.
This is better than just shrugging our shoulders or cringing in fright over the threat of war.
We think the best thing to do now is to first verify with China whether it is indeed threatening war against our country if we press our rival claim in the South China Sea. If it confirms the threat, that would be the time to again go to the UN tribunal to seek a ruling regarding our rights.
If China hems and haws about the threat, that would also be a welcome answer, because it would indicate that China is far from certain about its policy in the South China Sea.
The 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in favor of the Philippines is an important marker. It shows China’s claims on the disputed waters stand on shaky waters.
It shows that the Philippines has every right to explore for oil in the Recto (Reed) Bank, which is internationally recognized as part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea. Only the Philippines can exploit natural resources within the area.
President Duterte may wish to play down the ruling in consideration of China’s feelings; he has no authority to wave away the ruling or give away the bank. Indeed, he has the sworn duty as President to preserve and protect the nation’s interest in the disputed waters.