By Robert B. Roque, Jr.
The clock is ticking, and it seems that China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are still worlds apart in completing a Code of Conduct (COC) for the South China Sea by the end of their three-year deadline in 2021.
At present, Manila plays a crucial role in hurdling the stalemate as the coordinator of China-ASEAN Dialogue Relations and co-chair of the COC consultations. The focus is on determining the allowable actions countries can take in contested South China Sea areas.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin Jr. committed to drafting a COC that “the rest of the world will be totally comfortable (with), friends and enemies alike” while China expressed confidence it will be completed at the “earliest possible time to ensure peace and stability in the region”.
That’s what we all want to hear, even though what’s clear and acceptable to the rest of the world is The Hague’s 2016 ruling, which invalidated China’s sweeping claims over the South China Sea.
Last week, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany joined countries like the United States and Australia in rejecting China’s sweeping maritime territorial claims. In a note verbale to the United Nations (UN), they called out China for non-compliance to international law and provisions of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the Philippines’ arbitral award.
Suspiciously, our top diplomat responds by shading the European countries. In his tweet, Locsin said: “Europe joined other Western Johnnies Come Lately in upholding the Arbitral Award. Should we be grateful? No. The Award needs nothing more from anyone; it is International Law. If we had depended on anyone but ourselves alone, we’d have been sold out. The Award was a solo victory.”
Let’s examine what’s really happening while our DFA secretary basks on our “solo victory”. China has rejected our arbitral award, and the Philippines’ diplomatic response to that under this administration has been “to agree to disagree”.
Meantime, China has been building its military facilities on territories within our exclusive economic zone and policing them against the entry of our fishing boats.
Moreover, we have welcomed Chinese contractors to build and gain hefty stakes in state-owned industries critical to our national security, such as telecommunications, airports, dams, and reclamation projects right at our capital’s front door.
Last weekend, Sen. Ralph Recto sounded the alarm on these developments, saying: “We should not reward Chinese state corporations who are responsible for reclaiming and constructing military facilities in the Spratly island to do business in the Philippines by reclaiming Manila Bay and creating an airport in Sangley point, driving away from our Philippine Navy from guarding Manila Bay.”
As it appears, plans for two reclamation projects involving Chinese contractors in Manila Bay will block off the Philippine Navy’s access to the bay, giving it the farcical distinction of being the only naval headquarters on earth without its own passageway to the country’s territorial sea!
It begs me to ask, do we have an enemy within?