China has underlined its non-recognition of the 2016 international arbitral ruling favoring the Philippines and nullifying Beijing’s nine-dash line claim over nearly all of the South China Sea, only days after President Rodrigo Duterte described this in a speech before the United Nations General Assembly as a legal victory.
In a virtual forum organized by the Association for Philippines-China Understanding Inc., Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian cited the “consensus” allegedly reached between Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping to shelve maritime disputes and manage the situation through dialogue and cooperation.
“China’s position on the so-called arbitral ruling has been very clear: We do not accept, and we do not recognize this so-called ruling. It has been agreed by our two presidents that we should close the old chapter and shelve differences,” said Huang.
Huang said the consensus of Duterte and Xi to “put aside” the maritime disputes and manage the situation through bilateral consultations should be “vigorously implemented by both sides” so that the “sound momentum of our relations as guideposts to the way forward will be preserved and enhanced.”
He said dialogue mechanisms such as the bilateral consultation mechanism is “working well to manage differences and explore practical cooperation” and that China was “committed to speed up” consultations on a code of conduct between ASEAN and China as a way of promoting peace and stability.
There was no immediate reaction from Malacanang on the latest Chinese claim.
The July 2016 decision on the arbitration case by The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration recognized the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone in the resource-rich waters, which China claims in almost its entirety.
France, Germany, and the United Kingdom recently reasserted the 2016 Hague ruling that China’s ‘historic claims’ in the South China Sea are illegal.
“The award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon. We firmly reject attempts to undermine it,” Duterte said, thanking other countries supporting the ruling.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Navy reaffirmed its commitment to the adherence to international law in settling of disputes in the South China Sea.
Navy Chief Vice Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo made the assurance during the Virtual Key Leaders Engagement with Chiefs of Regional Navies hosted by the US Pacific Fleet late Friday.
Bacordo echoed the earlier statement of President Rodrigo Duterte during the 75th United Nations General Assembly and said: “The Commander-in-Chief’s guidance to the Armed Forces of the Philippines is crystal clear.”
“But in doing so, we reaffirm our commitment to the peaceful settlement of disputes and the adherence to international laws,” he added.
Bacordo added the Navy was playing a major role in helping the government contain the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
Duterte, who had pivoted towards China in the early months of his presidency in 2016, said the Philippine commitment in the disputed part of the South China Sea was in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 Hague ruling.
“We must remain mindful of our obligations and commitment to the Charter of the United Nations and as amplified by the 1982 Manila Declaration on the Peaceful Settlement of International Disputes,” Duterte said in his first-ever address before the world body.
The Philippines, China and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei lay separate claims to parts of the South China Sea.
The Philippines lays claim to the West Philippine Sea, which is in the eastern part of the South China Sea.
China wants to settle the disputes bilaterally rather than through multilateral or international platforms and had refused to participate in the Hague arbitration, a process that was in accordance with the UNCLOS, and rejected the tribunal’s decision.
Prof. Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said he believed Beijing’s continued and increased aggression in the disputed South China Sea in the past year might be the reason Duterte raised the award before the international community.
But Huang said external powers should not be allowed to derail Philippine-China relations as he claimed that countries “enjoy freedom of navigation in South China Sea in accordance with international law.”
He also dismissed “misleading accusations” over the so-called Chinese “debt trap.”
“In fact, there was no evidence that Chinese projects threaten Philippine security. In fact, these projects are contributing to your national building,” Huang said.
Critics have said the Philippines has entered into onerous deals with China, with former Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio warning that Beijing could seize natural gas deposits in the Reed Bank (Recto Bank) in the disputed waters if Manila is unable to pay the $62-million Chinese loan for the Chico River Irrigation Loan Agreement.
Carpio is a long-time advocate of the Philippines’ sovereignty and a vocal critic of what he calls China’s “creeping invasion.”
Bacordo also informed all participants on the impact of the unprecedented situation on the PN regarding its international defense and security engagements in the region.
US Pacific Fleet commander, Admiral John Aquilino, invited the regional heads of Navy in a virtual conference to discuss the outlooks and perspectives in the COVID-19 environment.
The Navy chiefs of Bangladesh, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Fiji, France, New Zealand, Tonga, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and the United States participated in the multilateral engagement.
The PN’s participation is a manifestation of its unfaltering commitment and firm dedication in promoting stability and cooperation in the region and strengthening ties and friendship with other navies, Bacordo said.
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