Philippines Welcomed By China After U.N. Arbitration Ruling On South China Sea Maritime Zones

The Philippines has been welcomed by China to resume bilateral talks in the wake of the ruling by the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration clarifying entitlements to the South China Sea maritime zones. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang responded positively on Friday, July 15, 2016, to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s plan to send a special envoy, former President Fidel Ramos, to China for talks.

“China welcomes that President Duterte is willing to send special envoy to China to start talks. China has always been sticking to the way of properly handling relevant issues between China and the Philippines through bilateral talks, and we have never closed the door of dialogue with the Philippines. As long as the two countries adhere to the way of appropriately handling differences through dialogue and consultation, I believe a prospect of bright future for bilateral relations will open up.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, prior to the Philippines’ friendly overtures being welcomed by the People’s Republic, was the ruling that struck down China’s “nine-dash line” claiming nearly 90 percent of the South China Sea. The ruling regards some 25 percent of the waters as high seas at the center. The ruling also deems freedom of navigation and overflight for civilian and military vessels and aircraft of all nations as belonging to mankind.

Former President Fidel Ramos, envoy to China [Photo by Pool/AP Images]
An article by the Diplomat suggests that China as a world-class economic player, is not yet the robust supporter of the international system that many had hoped it would become. The Philippines’ friendly initiative being welcomed by China indicates a relaxing of the two countries’ stiff relationship in the wake of the arbitral ruling at the Hague. Through its gracious response, China might qualify in former World Bank President Robert Zoellick’s view as a “responsible stakeholder,” a nation that regularly acts, even against its own self-interest, for the good of the international order as a whole.

According to ABS-CBN News, President Duterte showed his pragmatism when he identified Ramos as the Philippines’ special envoy who would be welcomed by China. Duterte shared his views during a July 14 testimonial dinner held at Club Filipino in San Juan City, Metro Manila.

“War? It is not an option. So what is the other side? Peaceful talks. I cannot give you the wherewithals now, I have to consult many people, including (former) President Ramos. We gain nothing, but we also do not want to offend the United States. Why? Because we have identified ourselves allied with the Western powers. So there’s an interest that we also should not forget, our interests and the interest of our allies.”

As a backdrop to these developments, the world’s naval powers, led by the U.S., have declared that they will sail and fly in the high seas, keeping in mind the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of each country in the South China Sea region. Such actions would be to assert freedom of navigation and overflight for the participants’ military and civilian vessels and aircraft. An envoy from the Philippines’ stepping in with an olive branch to be welcomed by China represents Duterte’s pragmatic approach to an awkward situation.

Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio of the Philippine Supreme Court [Photo by Pool/AP Images]
The standoff with the Philippines is trifling in the context of China’s dramatic return to the world stage. The Diplomat reports China’s almost inconceivable progress over several decades from near isolation to thorough integration in the international system. When the People’s Republic was welcomed diplomatically by the U.S. in 1979, the sleeping giant had been tossing and turning through its ten-year Cultural Revolution nightmare to slowly awaken under the leadership of newly-installed de facto chief Deng Xiaoping.

Beijing’s cold reaction to the verdict from the Hague has made pundits wonder about the ambivalence of Chinese leaders in refusing to follow laws and norms they don’t like. However, with the Philippines’ envoy being welcomed by China, there is a break in the clouds, promising good weather for a storm-tossed international system.

In his article for the Wall Street Journal, Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio of the Philippine Supreme Court asserted that the Philippines’ EEZ in the South China Sea is free from any overlapping claim with China, except for the two small 12-mile territorial seas of McKennan Reef and Scarborough Shoal. Ex-president Ramos making a good-neighbor visit on behalf of the Philippines could be welcomed by China as a face-saving way to get past making claims on small rock formations.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. on UNCLOS ruling:

According to Justice Carpio, states such as China and the Philippines that ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), agreed to accept it as a “package deal”– accepting its provisions entirely and not selectively. What follows is that if the ruling is not welcomed by China, the People’s Republic can be held accountable for accepting the benefits of UNCLOS under its seabed provisions but rejecting its provisions under its dispute settlement mechanism.

Exploration for seabed oil is cited by pundits as the real factor in contention. Thus an understanding with the Philippines in this regard, without a sovereignty conflict, should be welcomed by China. Otherwise, Justice Carpio holds the following view.

“Over time the ruling will be enforced substantially because the world will never accept that a single state can claim ownership to almost an entire sea that is bordered by several states. Such a precedent would mean the demise of the Law of the Sea.”

As of now, there is much optimism in the Philippines over Envoy Ramos being welcomed by China.

[Photo by Pool/AP Images]

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