Delaying bilateral negotiations leaves Manila more disadvantaged

By Li Kaisheng Source:Global Times Published: 2015-7-23 22:58:01

On Tuesday, US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel said that the US is not always neutral in the South China Sea, claiming that "we are not neutral when it comes to adhering to international law." Just three days before, the US Pacific Fleet Chief Scott Swift joined surveillance of South China Sea on board a P-8A Poseidon aircraft for seven hours. The Philippines' presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma called it "additional voices" of a "move for a peaceful resolution," and said "we welcome the growing support for the position of our country."

Manila submitted the South China Sea dispute to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which the Philippines thinks gives it an advantage.

China has long before issued a declaration in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which excludes "the resolution of disputes related to maritime borders through forced arbitration and other forced dispute resolution procedures."

The Philippines might hope to get a court decision that favors itself, and provides it with leverage in future bargaining with China. However, there is no mechanism for mandatory implementation in international arbitration. The only way to solve the problem is hence to depend on bilateral negotiation eventually.

In fact, the Philippines has made some strategic mistakes over the issue, which will potentially damage the Sino-Philippine ties and regional stability.

To start with, China will not be led by the nose by the Philippines' international arbitration, but will seek for more leverage of its own for negotiations.

Beijing's current island construction on South China Sea comes in response to the earlier island reclamation conducted by Vietnam and the Philippines, and a response to the latter's persistence in international arbitration.

The longer the negotiations are suspended, the more disadvantaged the Philippines will become at the negotiating table.

Hyping the dispute will also worsen the bilateral ties. Under such background, the overall cooperation between the two countries will suffer setbacks. At the moment, China is promoting a major investment plan of common interests through the "One Belt, One Road" project, and Manila is likely to miss the chance if it shows no willingness to break the deadlock over its disputes on South China Sea.

Moreover, drawing the US and even Japan over to its side will only go against Philippines' claimed goal of peace. Under the backdrop of limited strategic mutual trust between China and the US, if Washington increases its military involvement, there will be growing possibility for frictions or even accidental clashes between the two sides. This is obviously not conducive to peace, the resolution of South China Sea disputes and regional stability. By then, it will be impossible for Manila to observe with indifference, for it will be bound to be afflicted.

Since China and the Philippines' confrontation over the Huangyan Island, the sovereignty disputes between the two sides over South China Sea have been lasting for over three years. It is harmful for both sides.

Next year, President of the Philippines Benigno Aquino III will step down from office. We don't know what the new president's attitude will be. But in any case, if he is a rational politician, Aquino should make some room for the better development of Sino-Philippine ties, instead of making them worse.

China, while sticking to its stance, can conduct flexible communications and interactions with the Philippines as well as other relevant countries. The APEC summit, which will be held in Manila in November, will be an opportunity.

China was used to ways of cooling off exchanges when bilateral ties worsened off in the past, such as reducing the number of exchange visits. But such way of dealing the issue may damage people's belief in China's sincerity of pursuing peace, and reduced the chances to encourage the other side to adjust policy.

The author is an associate research fellow at the Institute of International Relations, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

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