Palace: US could have stopped China in South China Sea
MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang lamented on Wednesday the United States’ inaction on Beijing’s massive reclamation in the disputed South China Sea.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo issued the statement following reports of China’s continued aggression in the disputed waters, including poaching giant clams in Scarborough Shoal and deploying Chinese maritime militia near the Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island.
“Well, like America is there, they could have stopped China from the inception, but they did not,” Panelo said in an interview over ABS-CBN News Channel on Wednesday.
In July 2016, the Philippines won its arbitration case against China before the United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal in The Hague, which invalidated Beijing’s sweeping claims to almost all of the South China Sea.
China, however, has repeatedly refused to recognize the ruling.
Since he assumed the presidency in June 2016, Duterte said he would set aside the ruling in the meantime and chose to engage China through bilateral talks.
“I think the realization is: how do you enforce an arbitral ruling from an international tribunal that does not have the mechanism of enforcement? It does not have a force to reckon with and then we have powerful countries who appear not to be persuaded to enforce it,” Panelo said.
He said the Duterte administration has not forgotten the ruling.
In a speech in Palawan on April 3, Duterte told China not to “touch” Pag-asa Island following the surge of vessels from a Chinese fishing fleet believed to be maritime militia.
Panelo earlier said Duterte has effectively invoked the ruling with this pronouncement.
“Because by mentioning that, there is the message to the Chinese government that ‘we have not forgotten this, excuse us,’” he said.
“Effectively, he (Duterte) is already telling them that this arbitral ruling has the stamp of permanence; it’s irreversible; nobody can take that away from us. That’s what he is telling the Chinese government,” he added.
“But meanwhile, since we cannot enforce it by force since we are not capable of doing that, Panelo said the government’s message is, “let’s be friends first and then let’s discuss if we can enforce this through negotiation.”
Increase Coast Guard presence
Following the report of China poaching giant clams in the Scarborough Shoal, Panelo said there “is a need for an increased number of Coast Guards in that area.”
“So if we don’t have that number, then we must purchase, maybe, vessels,” he said.
Scarborough Shoal is a traditional fishing ground within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone that Beijing seized after a two-month standoff with the Philippine Navy in 2012.
Asked why the government is now issuing strong statements against China Panelo said, “We never changed [the] tone.”
“We said that our responses are studied or calibrated, depends on the situation. We just don’t make reckless statements the moment we hear about a report that a certain person or group of persons do these things in that area,” he said.
“We have to validate that first, that’s why we were very cautious in making statements. Now, when we validated that, then we make a very strong statement,” he added. /ee
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