THE incoming administration of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte should wait for the ruling of the international tribunal on the complaint filed by the Philippines against China before holding talks with Beijing, former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Tuesday.
Manila questioned China’s claim to almost all areas in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) through its nine-dash line policy.
Interviewed by journalists at the sidelines of a forum on Enhanced Defense Security Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) at the National Defense College of the Philippines in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, Del Rosario said that while negotiation is favorable, timing is imperative.
“I think it’s only a matter of timing. For example in terms of the bilateral negotiations, we favor negotiations but the timing must be geared towards the conclusion of the arbitration court obviously for many reasons but most valid of which is the tribunal. We must await the decision before we start talking with China, otherwise, the judges are going to think twice about what it is that we’re doing right,” Del Rosario pointed out.
Duterte had said he favors holding bilateral talks with China, a stand echoed by incoming Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay.
In the EDCA forum sponsored by the Albert Del Rosario Institute for Strategic and International Studies (ADRi), Ernest Bower, chairman of the Southeast Asia Program Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said if the Philippines pursues bilateral negotiations with China and Beijing ignored the ruling of the international tribunal, the Philippines would lose the respect of its partners.
“I think the Philippines would lose respect of partners in Asia and certainly the United States would extremely be disappointed,” Bower said.
The Stratbase private think tank meanwhile said that promoting stability in the West Philippine Sea through EDCA will do good for the incoming Duterte administration.
“Insights on the situation in the West Philippine Sea, including how to work together with partners over shared concerns around the maritime disputes would help the Duterte government score positive points,” said Dindo Manhit, ADRi president.
Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of the CSIS, said EDCA is vital to the security of the Philippines.
“Without US assistance, the Philippines cannot attain a minimum credible defense posture in the near to medium term,” he said.
“And without greater air presence over the South China Sea, the US cannot maintain freedom of navigation as the number of Chinese forces in the region balloons in the coming years thanks to its new artificial islands in the Spratlys,” Poling added.
Former National Security Adviser Roilo Golez raised three events that may trigger a response from other countries who also have claims on some areas in the West Philippine Sea.
“How would China respond to a ruling of the tribunal that is favorable to the Philippines? Second, they issued a warning about construction in Scarborough shoal. What if China in the next few months would start construction in Scarborough shoal? How would the other powers respond? And third the other powers, particularly the United States Secretary (John) Kerry, warned about China declaring an ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone). What if China would eventually declare an ADIZ lets say next month or three months from now? How would this be handled? What kind of a scenario would be triggered by any or all of these events?” he asked.
Bower said there will be an international outcry against China if it will continue its contraction project at Scarborough shoal or if the Chinese hurt somebody from the Philippine military.