Filipino Attitude Toward China Remains Friendly In Advance Of U.N. Arbitration Ruling By July 12

The Filipino attitude toward China continues to be friendly amid speculation on what will happen once the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague hands down its decision by July 12, 2016, on the South China Sea dispute. An olive branch waved by the Philippines at its giant neighbor has called for partnering up in joint projects, making the contested area a sanctuary for fish, and respecting the global commons under a rules-based international order.

According to Inquirer, Filipino Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio told a gathering of foreign correspondents in Makati City on Friday, June 24, that parties and observers will be notified seven days before the U.N. court decision is released. Carpio is known to have maintained a positive attitude toward debunking China’s nine-dash-line claim.

Meanwhile, Filipino President-elect Rodrigo Duterte indicated on Monday, June 27, that he will keep mum on the matter until the United Nations tribunal issues its ruling. Already, several vocal officials and analysts have assumed the attitude that the ruling will not be favorable toward China.

People's Republic Army soldiers and U.S. warship
At an April press conference in Palawan during his election campaign, Duterte said he was open to having a joint exploration between the Philippines and China in the oil-rich disputed waters. According to ABS-CBN News, the Filipino president-elect’s attitude leaned toward working out a deal with Beijing in some kind of a partnership. Duterte issued the following statement to China.

“Build me a train around Mindanao, build me train from Manila to Bicol… build me a train [going to] Batangas, for the six years that I’ll be president, I’ll shut up.”

Justice Carpio maintains that the Chinese-occupied Scarborough Shoal generates a territorial sea which is a traditional Filipino fishing ground. While casting their nets in the vicinity of the Scarborough Shoal, Filipino fishermen are within the bounds of the Philippine exclusive economic zone (E.E.Z.) and should have an attitude of entitlement toward the marine resources available. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (U.N.C.L.O.S.) grants a state special rights within its E.E.Z., stretching from the baseline out to 200 nautical miles from its coast, clearly overriding China’s claims on rock formations off Philippine shores.

In a press forum at Manila’s Century Park Hotel on June 23, Filipino Justice Carpio admitted “there is no world policeman to enforce the rule” but the world’s naval powers share the attitude that freedom of navigation and overflight are in their national interests. A number of them have already declared their intention to head out toward the contested area of the South China Sea and enforce free passage.

Antonio Carpio
Justice Carpio expects Filipino treaty-partner the United States to have the same attitude toward upholding freedom of navigation in the maritime waters where some $5.3 trillion in shipping passes through annually. The U.S., in Carpio’s opinion, would “really wave the U.N. ruling” in the face of China trying to annex 90 percent of the South China Sea.

However, the Filipino senior associate justice has always maintained an olive-branch attitude toward resolving the Filipino-Chinese conflict. According to The Greening of the Philippines, he has urged China to join his country in declaring the South China Sea a sanctuary for fish and part of the global commons.

Meanwhile, China’s state news agency Xinhua stated on May 20 that more than 40 countries back China’s stance on the arbitration case filed by the Filipino team. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has mentioned nations principally in Africa, the Mideast and Central Asia as showing a supportive attitude toward China’s interpretation.

Japan Today reported that few of those foreign governments have issued statements independently against the Filipino case. Some, including Cambodia, Laos and Fiji, have even taken the attitude of disavowal toward China’s description of their position.

Experts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington confirmed that the Filipino team suffered a setback in the attitude assumed by Afghanistan, Gambia, Niger, Sudan and Vanuatu when they signed a document with a pro-China bias. Also, Chinese overtures toward the 21-member Arab League resulted in another petition favoring China. But it was unclear if all the parties had their official positions represented in the statement they signed.

Incoming Filipino Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. has called on the international community to “get their act together” in an attitude of readiness for a likely U.N. arbitration court decision toward denying China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Even as the Filipino scene is dominated by a new government taking office on June 30, with President-elect Rodrigo Duterte maintaining a noncommittal attitude toward the case at the Hague, the eyes of the world will be on China ‘s next steps.

[Photo by Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images]