PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte plans to invoke a 2016 ruling by an international arbitration panel in the Hague that rebuffed Chinese claims over parts of the South China Sea when he visits Beijing later this month, his spokesman told reporters yesterday.
“Remember that I said before that there will be a time when I will invoke that arbitral ruling? This is the time, that’s why I’m going there,” presidential spokesman Salvador S. Panelo quoted the president as saying.
The United Nations tribunal in July 2016 ruled China’s efforts to assert control over the South China Sea exceeded the law, rejecting its shared claims with Taiwan to more than 80% of the main waterway.
China rejected the decision of the international court, which has failed to halt its island-building activities in areas also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.
The court rebuffed years of Chinese activity in the disputed sea under President Xi Jinping, whom Mr. Duterte will meet during a visit to China later this month.
Mr. Duterte, who has sought closer investment and trade ties with China since he became president in June 2016, will also bring up the alleged ramming by a Chinese ship of a Filipino fishing boat at the Reed Bank in June, Mr. Panelo said.
The president will try to resolve with his Chinese counterpart the issue of who was responsible for the incident, he said. “Who is responsible and what will be the compensation?” he added.
The president thinks it’s time to invoke the Hague ruling because his six-year term is about to end in three years, the spokesman said.
Mr. Duterte during his fifth visit to China since 2016 will also push for a 60-40 share in favor of the Philippines if joint exploration activities proceed, Mr. Panelo said.
The Department of Energy banned all exploration and drilling activities in the area starting in 2014 pending the sea dispute with China. The area is near Palawan province and the Malampaya gas field, a deepwater gas-to-power project operated by Shell Philippines Exploration BV.
After his meeting with Chinese Premiere Li Keqiang in Manila in Nov. 2017, Mr. Duterte said it was possible to lift the ban.
Also yesterday, Mr. Panelo said the Philippines won’t proceed with a plan to require Chinese nationals to undergo regular visa application procedures. The practice of giving Chinese tourists visa upon their arrival will continue.
Mr. Duterte approved a proposal to allow Chinese passports bearing the nine-dash line image to be stamped with the Philippine visa, ending a seven-year policy enforced to protest China’s sea claims.
The rubber stamp will bear a Philippine map that includes territories claimed by both countries, Mr. Panelo said.
China claims sovereignty over more than 80 percent of the South China Sea based on its so-called nine-dash line drawn on a 1940s map.
It has been building artificial islands in the disputed Spratly Islands and setting up installations including several runways.
It was Mr. Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno S. Aquino III, who sued China before the Hague tribunal. Mr. Aquino also strengthened Philippine alliance with the US to try to check China’s expansion in the main waterway.
Mr. Duterte in his yearly address to Congress last month promised to defend Philippine rights in the South China Sea “in a peaceful way.” “The West Philippine Sea is ours, there’s no ifs and buts, it is ours,” the tough-talking leader said in his address, referring to the South China Sea, more than 80% of which China claims.
But his government has to temper its territorial claims with realities, noting that an armed conflict with China would only bring “grief and misery.”
Mr. Duterte blamed his predecessor for allegedly giving way to China after a 2012 standoff in Scarborough Shoal that later allowed the regional power to occupy the shoal. — Arjay L. Balinbin