How are PH-Sino relations faring?
Yes, our relationship with China gained traction at the One Belt, One Road Forum for International Cooperation which President Duterte himself graced, but China has warned the Philippines that it will go to war should the latter drill for oil in the West Philippine Sea.
On May 22, Malacañang assured the public that President Duterte has the Philippines’ best interests at heart. The statement came after he revealed that Chinese President Xi Jinping told him that while China wants to maintain warm relations with the Philippines, it will “go to war” if the Philippines enforces its claim over parts of South China Sea. This prompted lawmakers to call for sending China a diplomatic protest.
Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said, “The first and last priority of President Duterte is the national interest and the well-being of the Filipino.” But he also stated that Malacañang is “very clear that we are not giving up our claim of sovereignty and sovereign rights over certain islands in the South China Sea, at the same time, these matters are pursued in the context of maintaining peace and prosperity in the region.”
This new rhetoric from Xi Jinping has created a more confusing political consciousness among Filipinos. It was only on May 19 when Xi Jinping and President Duterte nearly signed the Code of Conduct in South China Sea (vis-a-vis the recently concluded meet on the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism). After all, what the people expect is one good news: a bilateral tie-up with China to diplomatically address their maritime disputes.
Here is a dilemma. By accepting voluminous trade benefits from China, the Philippines could be seen to be doing a very quick 180-degree turn on its West Philippine Sea claims in exchange for short-term benefits, like more fishing rights.
Ironically, what we see is a two-faced China. It wants to see a united Asean on issues like trade, but on strategic territorial issues, like control of the South China Sea, China would rather work bilaterally and not face a united front. It’s one way of signaling other countries to “turn a blind eye” to Chinese activities in the South China Sea. That is the biggest puzzle the Duterte administration should address. If President Duterte has a bigger game to play, we hope for a sustainable result for the entire nation.
Meanwhile, despite the Philippines’ and China’s overlapping claims in South China Sea, relations have improved after President Duterte reached out to China.
I still look forward to the Philippines and China continuing what they started last May 19: committing to a peaceful resolution of the socioeconomic and political challenges facing them. The recently concluded Bilateral Consultation Mechanism is one platform for confidence-building, to address issues pertaining to the South China Sea.
MARIA JUMELA E. DECENA,
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