Don’ t expect confrontation in  coming Beijing meeting

Published August 10, 2019, 12:40 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

e-cartoon-aug-10-2019When President  Duterte  visits China  starting  August 31, he said he will take up with China President  Xi Jinping  the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016.

The ruling basically ruled that China has “no historical rights” based on a map it produced  in 1947 claiming  sovereignty over about  80 percent  of  the South China Sea  covered by a nine-dash line looping  around the SCS.  The court declined to “rule on any question of sovereignty over land territory and  would  not delimit any maritime boundary between the parties.”

China  from the beginning said  it would not participate in the arbitration proceedings and when the court issued its decision  on July 12, 2016, China rejected the ruling. After the ruling,  38 countries expressed  support  for  it while  4 opposed  it, and 4 were neutral.

But  there is no way the ruling can be  enforced. “There  is no power on earth presently that can enforce the ruling,” said  Malacanang  spokesman Salvado Panelo when pressed why the Philippines is not using it to fight China’s claim to some islands in the South China Sea. “The United Nations cannot. The United States cannot. Who will enforce it?”

When  President  Duterte  assumed office in 2016, he acknowledged  this fact and  he chose to work with China  instead on various economic development programs. Possibly the biggest of these ventures will be a joint exploration for oil, gas, and other petroleum products in the Reed Bank area near Palawan,  with a 60-40 percent  sharing of  the proceeds  in favor of the  Philippines. This is similar to the 60-40 sharing agreement with a Shell-led consortium  in  the Malampaya  natural  gas project.

When he said he will take up the Arbitral Court  ruling when he meets with President  Xi  Jinping  in Beijing , President Duterte  will not be making any demands on China under that the Arbitral Court ruling,  as some of his critics  hope he will. He will probably state it without demanding that China accept it. They will then proceed to discuss projects and programs the two countries can undertake together without  fighting over matters of sovereignty.

China itself has  called  for  the settlement of any disputes in the South China Sea through negotiation and consultation. This is exactly what  will happen when the two presidents meet in Beijing – not  confrontation,  not any demand to carry out the Arbitral  Court ruling.  The ruling will be there, a part  of our history, but the reality is that it cannot  be enforced. Perhaps sometime in the future,  negotiation and  diplomacy will be able to achieve what the ruling cannot.