Published On: Sun, Oct 16th, 2016

Duterte to visit China: Won’t Compromise on Philippines’ Territorial Sovereignty

nsnbc : Ernesto Abella, the spokesman for the Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte, asserted that the president won’t enter any agreement with China that could be prejudicial to the country’s interests. Abella’s statement came as Duterte is preparing for an official visit to China and in response to a statement by Associate Justice Antonio Carpio that Duterte may face impeachment is he concedes sovereignty of the Scarborough shoal.

President Rodrigo "Rody" Duterte before his departure for Brunei and China.

President Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte before his departure for Brunei and China.

The Scarborough shoal in the West Philippine Sea / South China Sea that is part of the Chinese – Philippines territorial dispute and part of a wide territorial dispute in the South China Sea, between China, the Philippines, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia and Vietnam, as well as Taiwan.

President Duterte earlier referred to the Scarborough shoal as the Philippines’ fish pond located outside the country’s 22-kiliometer territory. Duterte has also stressed that a war with China over the Scarborough shoal was an unwinnable undertaking and that he’s rather sit down with China boost trade with China, and attract Chinese investments and loans.

Earlier this year the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines in Chinese – Philippines’ disputes. However, the UN institution based in The Hague concluded that no country had sovereign rights over the Scarborough shoal and that all countries from the region had legitimate fishing rights there. Responding to the threat of impeachment vented by Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, Abella responded in a radio interview, saying:

“Let’s just let them talk. As far as I know, this is based more or less on economic agreements. In the words of the President, we want a soft landing. Although we are not planning to compromise any issues, everything is about timing”.

Associate  Justice Carpio’s statement comes against the backdrop of the Duterte administration’s adjustment of the Philippines’ strategic partnerships and alliances. Denounced as anti-American or pro-Chinese by some, Duterte’s foreign policy aims at making the Philippines less dependent on the United States, building strategic alliances with regional countries, good neighborly relations with China, and at militating the risk posed by letting the geopolitical disputes between China and the USA dominate regional security, economic development and stability. Duterte’s unequivocal and at times not exactly diplomatic way of conveying to the USA that the Philippines no longer is a colony and a sovereign state has by some been falsely interpreted as “pro-Chinese”

Duterte to visit China October 19 – 21 – Exiting Prospects – Abella
Scarborough Shoal

Scarborough Shoal

President Rodrigo Duterte is visiting neighboring Brunei on Sunday, October 16. On October 19 Duterte is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Chairman of the National People’s Congress Zhan Deijang, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Duterte’s visit to Beijing comes as Xi Jinping will just have concluded his participation in the BRICS summit in Goa, India.

President “Rody” Duterte’s spokesman Abella promised exiting prospects, saying that Duterte would sign agreements in various fields of cooperation. He also underpinned that Duterte will visit Beijing with an entourage of nearly 500 businessmen. “We expect good results for the country and it will read an economic increase. There are exciting things that are coming up,” he said.

Zhao Jianhua, China’s Ambassador to the Philippines, for his part, said on Friday that the two countries could very well pursue broad business relations while they are still at odds over sovereignty issues. He added that there was common ground on the South China Sea that both sides could work from, including on the disputed Scarborough Shoal.

China has rejected the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague as invalid and denounced the UN body saying that “The Permanent Court of Arbitration is neither permanent nor a court”. It is noteworthy that China’s sudden rush to establish land-reclamation project, island building on reefs, territorial disputes, especially with Vietnam and the Philippines escalated in 2012 when the US administration of President Barack Obama announced its “Pivot to Asia” policy.

Chinese fishermen as depicted in Chinese media. Larger vessels protected by Chinese Coast Guard units tell China's neighbors that there are bigger fish to fry.

Chinese fishermen as depicted in Chinese media. Larger vessels protected by Chinese Coast Guard units tell China’s neighbors that there are bigger fish to fry.

It was within this climate that the Philippines, in 2012, filed a lawsuit against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration. With the Scarborough shoal declared as international territory by the PCA, Duterte is likely to use the rocky outcrop as a starting point to unfreeze the Chinese – Philippines’ dispute.

Duterte stressed repeatedly that he accepts that the Scarborough shoal was designated as international territory while he insists that Filipino fishermen must have unhindered access to the fishing grounds.

Ambassador Zhao commented on Friday that he was confident that a solution could be found and eventually the two countries could create “a sea of peace and cooperation”. He added that “The Chinese side is very much interested in fishery cooperation. That is a kind of response to your president’s concern about fishermen”.

China’s neighbors who are not only aware of Chinese semantics and culture but confronted with large Chinese fishing fleets protected by Chinese Coast Guard vessels fishing in their territorial or disputed waters will be taking  Ambassador Zhao’s statements about a “sea of peace and cooperation” with a grain of sea salt.

CH/L – nsnbc 16.10.2016

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