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Groups protest after Beijing calls WPS ruling ‘a piece of waste paper’

china foreign ministry

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian takes a question at the daily media briefing in Beijing on April 8, 2020. AFP FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — Appearing to take a cue from President Rodrigo Duterte’s past remarks, China has called the Philippines’ 2016 landmark victory at the Permanent Court of Arbitration “nothing more than a piece of waste paper,” drawing protests in Manila for the “disrespectful, crass statements.”

“The [arbitral award] is illegal, null and void. It is nothing more than a piece of waste paper. China does not accept or participate in the arbitration, nor does it accept or recognize the award,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a press briefing in Beijing on Monday, the fifth anniversary of the ruling issued in The Hague.

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On Tuesday, militant groups Bayan and Pamalakaya separately condemned Zhao’s remarks. Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes urged Malacañang to summon the Chinese ambassador to Manila to protest, saying Zhao’s remarks were “akin to a spit in the face of Filipinos.”

Vice President Leni Robredo said the Chinese foreign ministry’s remarks were “unnecessary and unfortunate.”

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She said that while she took umbrage at the remarks, they were “expected” because China had never budged from its position not to recognize the arbitral award.

“After all, governments are expected to assert their nation’s interests even if sometimes they have to bend logic in the process. But for me personally, ‘sana all’ (How I wish everyone was like that),” she said, alluding to Mr. Duterte’s lax stance on the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

“I hope our own government was just as brave about the issue, because the more we back down, the more they will get the upper hand,” she said.

Also on Tuesday, Sen. Risa Hontiveros lamented that five years since the Philippines’ victory in The Hague, China “still has not come to her senses.”

In a statement, Hontiveros challenged Malacañang to denounce the Chinese foreign ministry’s remarks, saying she was bothered that Beijing’s description of the arbitral award as “a piece of waste paper” was similar to what Duterte said in a recent public briefing.

‘Violation’ of the law

“The words that come out of the President’s mouth should echo the sentiment of the Filipino public, not of China,” the senator said, recalling how she had urged him to retract his statement.

According to Zhao, “the South China Sea arbitration violated the principle of state consent and the arbitral tribunal exercised its jurisdiction ultra vires (beyond its powers) and rendered an award in disregard of law.”

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He claimed “major fallacies in fact-finding and application of law” in the arbitration, and said it “violate[d]” the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) and international law.

But Hontiveros said “China’s behavior vis-a-vis the West Philippine Sea has only been obstructive, devoid of respect for our sovereign country.”

She cited the arbitral award’s declaration that China’s nine-dash-line claim has no historic or legal basis, and that it cannot exceed what nations are entitled to under Unclos.

“On what planet does [Zhao] think China is? The entire world has accepted and honored this landmark legal decision,” she said.

Hontiveros reminded Zhao that China is part of the UN, a signatory to Unclos, and also a permanent member of the UN’s Security Council.

“Beijing’s leadership better stop contorting international law, which member-nations should abide by, just because it is not in her favor. Beijing should also stop lying through her teeth,” the senator said.

‘Totally unacceptable’

Bayan’s Reyes said the government should not allow Zhao’s insult to pass “without raising a howl of protest.”

“Malacañang should summon the Chinese ambassador to Manila over the utterly disrespectful, crass statements,” Reyes said. “This is totally unacceptable.”

Fernando Hicap, chair of the fishers’ group Pamalakaya, also urged the government to hold China accountable for destroying the marine environment of the islands around Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal and other disputed areas through its large-scale reclamation and poaching activities.

On Monday, a US-based expert Liz Derr revealed that Chinese vessels anchored in the disputed waters were dumping human waste and sewage and causing massive marine damage to the resource-rich area.

Hicap said this was tantamount to the plunder of Philippine marine resources. He called on the government to help ordinary Filipinos in seeking the “dismantling of all Chinese military structures in our waters and the withdrawal of all its military forces from these artificial islands.

“No matter how powerful the Chinese military is, it will prove no match to the united patriotic Filipino people,” Hicap said.

‘Stoking disputes’

Zhao made his remarks after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reaffirmed America’s commitment to defend the Philippines against an attack on its armed forces in the South China Sea, saying it would set the 1951 US-PH Mutual Defense Treaty in action.

Blinken also called on China to “cease provocative behavior, and take steps to reassure the international community that it is committed to the rules-based maritime order.”

In response, Zhao said the US statement was “extremely irresponsible,” adding that America was “stoking disputes” and “undermining peace and stability” in the region.

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TAGS: arbitral ruling, maritime dispute, PCA ruling, PH-China Relations, Rodrigo Duterte, West Philippine Sea, Zhao Lijian
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