Diplomats ask Duterte to dialogue with China
President-elect Rodrigo Duterte must launch bilateral talks with China instead of purely relying on the arbitration court’s decision to settle the raging sea dispute, senior Filipino diplomats have said.
Ambassador Rosario Manalo, who was head of the High Level Task Force on Asean charter, said while it appeared too late to address the issue because of China’s massive buildup in the South China Sea, bilateral talks could ease tensions that have raised the stakes and rankled the international community.
“We should negotiate (with China), although it is a bit too late because of China’s buildup. Under international law, the country who has physical control is the owner,” Manalo said in a chance interview at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) late Wednesday.
Manalo, who has been nominated at the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, noted the Philippines’ arbitration case provoked China to intensify its military buildup and activities.
China continues to view the Philippines as being “on a hostile side” after it filed in January 2013 an arbitration case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, she said.
But Manalo said she was optimistic that China would agree to a bilateral agreement with the Philippines because it needed to repair its damaged image in the international community after ramping up its military buildup to almost 90 percent of the disputed waters in the South China Sea.
“They (China) will (agree to bilateral agreement). They will because they have to, otherwise, the international community will continue to build a negative image of China,” she said.
Resolved by talking
Meanwhile, former foreign affairs undersecretary for policy Lauro Baja, who helped negotiate the Declaration of Conduct in the South China Sea between Asean and China in 2002, agreed that the row could only be resolved by talking to Beijing.
“You cannot resolve an issue without talking to each other, whether bilateral, multilateral, global … they are not mutually exclusive. That’s what other claimant countries are doing. Look at Vietnam, Malaysia,” said Baja in a separate interview at the DFA on Wednesday.
Baja said even if the Philippines wins its arbitration case, “there are no moral victories in questions of territorial sovereignty or maritime entitlement because they (China) are already there.”
China has repeatedly ignored the tribunal, and enforcing the upcoming decision remains the Philippines’ next primary concern.
Manila should call on its allies led by the United States, “to be more forthright, to be more open and specific in their support for the Philippines,” said Baja in a separate interview with reporters.
He said countries supporting freedom of navigation and peaceful settlement of disputes should give specific commitments in cases of confrontations with Chinese military ships.
“If there’s an incident in Scarborough shoal or a specific action by China, what would you do? What will these allies do (referring to the United States and Japan)?” Baja said.
He said the Philippines’ security allies—Japan, United States and Australia—must be more upfront in their support to Manila.
“If you ask them if they will come to our aid if there will be an attack in Scarborough or Sierra Madre (ship), they will not be forthright,” Baja said.
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