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Commentary

Diplomacy: PH’s only option vs China

The suggestion by some well-meaning sectors for the government to file another case against China in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, this time for China’s harassment of Filipino fishermen and for the massive destruction of our coral reefs in Panatag Shoal, may not be advisable for two reasons.

One, China does not recognize the arbitral court, despite the fact that it is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea that mandates parties with conflicting maritime claims to settle their differences through The Hague tribunal.

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From the start, Beijing refused to participate in the hearing conducted by the tribunal on the first case filed by the Philippines. It then ignored the tribunal’s ruling issued in July 2016 that validated the Philippines’ claims to parts of the South China Sea. So what assurance can we have that, this time, Beijing would honor another ruling by the arbitral court that would favor us?

Second — and this is more important because it involves our people’s money: Our country cannot afford to spend more millions of dollars to file another case with the arbitral court.

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According to the Commission on Audit, the government paid a total of P149,060,125.61 to Foley Hoag LLP, an American law firm, from 2013 to 2017 for its services in connection with the Philippines’ arbitration case against China. But, according to Vera Files, the government actually spent $7 million (P328,996,500 at P47 to $1) in legal fees to support the international team that gave the Philippines its landmark victory against China. Vera Files said that the $7 million was more than 65 percent higher than the original contract fee of $4,212,000 agreed upon in December 2012 by the Aquino administration and Foley Hoag LLP.

To go to war with China is not an option. Everyone, including the critics of the Duterte administration, knows this.

The only course left for us is diplomacy — vigorous, sustained, unrelenting and transparent diplomacy.

Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger once defined diplomacy as “the art of restraining power.” A good example of this kind of diplomacy is Vietnam’s. The country, another claimant but to a much bigger chunk of the South China Sea, has been consistent in protesting China’s incursions both through diplomatic channels and in the media.

Vietnam got a bloody nose when its naval patrols clashed with the Chinese Navy in the disputed area in March 1988. Several Vietnamese vessels were sunk, with 64 Vietnamese killed and 11 wounded. In 1979, China also invaded Vietnam for 27 days “to teach the country a lesson”; thousands on both sides died in that brief war.

Probably because of its bloody past with China, Hanoi has been very vocal against Beijing’s aggression in the South China Sea.

Short of outright hostilities, why not adopt Vietnam’s strong and sustained diplomacy? Not everything is lost for us. While China’s President Xi Jinping has attacked the arbitral ruling as illegal and without any effect on China’s “territorial sovereignty and marine rights,” he has nonetheless assured all claimant countries that Beijing is committed to resolve the dispute peacefully with its neighbors.

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Thus, aside from intensifying our diplomatic protests against China, which can be done despite our seeming appeasement policy, the Department of Foreign Affairs should strive hard to push for the adoption by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) of the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea. That document has apparently been put in the back burner, with Singapore, this year’s Asean chair, saying it could take years before the COC would be signed. To put more diplomatic pressure on Beijing, it should be taken up with more urgency by the Asean.

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Alito L. Malinao is a former diplomatic reporter and news editor of the Manila Standard. He now teaches journalism at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila and is the author of the book “Journalism for Filipinos.”

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TAGS: Alito L. Malinao, China-Philippines relations, Diplomacy, Inquirer Commentary, Maritime Dispute, South China Sea, Unclos, West Philippine Sea
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