Government News Analysis

The issue that never was

ASEAN Summit

It’s not on the agenda, it’s not going to be discussed in open forum and short of possibly issuing a brief anodyne one paragraph joint statement for the benefit of the press – reiterating the grouping’s well-known position – it will be the non-event of the Asean Summit now underway in the Philippines’ capital, Manila.

We’re referring, of course, to the South China Sea dispute between the Philippines and China – the big issue as far as the West’s anti-China lobbies and those wanting to embarrass Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (photo) are concerned.

Although having no state legitimacy in this region, Democratic Party members of the US Congress and the Liberal wing of the European Parliament continue to inveigle their way into a regional issue a hemisphere away as they shout from the sidelines like hormonal adolescents egging on a schoolyard fight.

Their continual pressing for this issue to be taken up by the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to all but the extremely naïve, has nothing to do with Asean and everything to do with China – the world power they’re hell bent on containing wherever they can; however they can. The only cause the US-EU partnership is championing in the waters of the South China Sea is their own.

Briefly, what they would like is for the 10-member Asean executive to reference last year’s ruling by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration that the Philippines has sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal, a group of rock outcrops that takes its name from a British East India Company clipper ship that grounded there in 1784. Those opposed to China want to keep this dispute alive as long as possible; those who vilify Duterte want to ram it in his face.

This all goes back to a case lodged with the court by former Philippine president, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino in 2013 with heavy support from then US president, Barack Obama – despite the fact that the US had never signed up to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea under Annex VII of which the case had been brought, though that never inhibited Obama as far as quoting it was concerned.

To cut a long story short, the court handed down its decision on 12 July 2016 to the glee of Aquino, Obama and everyone else who wanted China cut down to size, while Beijing, which had never recognised the tribunal’s involvement anyway, simply ignored it.

The court, however, had no powers or authority, to implement the decision, leaving Obama to go into saber-rattling mode with promises of heightened US naval patrols and reassurances that Washington had Manila’s back. This allowed a confident Aquino to step up his jingoistic rhetoric, further damaging his country’s bilateral relations with the Mainland.

Beneath the surface, however, was Obama’s dream – the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a large trade block aimed at dominating commerce right in China’s backyard. China was excluded from TPP membership. Unfortunately for him, that ended up on the rocks much like the British merchant ship when in January this year his replacement in the White House, US President Donald Trump, made it one of his first official duties to withdraw the US from the TPP.

Prior to that, however, Obama’s dream was already turning dark. The Philippines had a new president – a resoundingly popular one – Rodrigo Duterte; and his view of the US and its involvement in his part of the world was the polar opposite of Aquino’s. And while the latter had done everything he could to reduce Philippine-China relations to a bitter feud, the former saw in China a welcome future partner.

The result of all that was that Duterte didn’t “press his advantage” with the arbitration court’s decision; he adopted a pragmatic approach opening up his country to Chinese trade and investment – reckoning that, certainly in the immediate term, his people would benefit far more than they would by continuing Aquino’s petulant treatment of their large neighbour to the north.

And that brings us to Asean and today.

Scarborough Shoal is just one of a number of ongoing territorial disputes in the South China Sea. And, indeed, even in that one there is another claimant. That’s Taiwan, which also rejected the tribunal’s ruling, though for obvious reasons – the West sees Taipei as being in its camp where rows with China are concerned – we read very little in the press about the Taiwanese stance.

The two other main South China Sea disputes involving China and Asean members are the Spratly Islands, contested by China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam as well as non-Asean member, Taiwan, and the Paracel Islands, claimed by China, Vietnam and again, Taiwan; and a number of islands in the Gulf of Tonkin, which China and Vietnam dispute ownership of. Indonesia’s variance with the Mainland, meanwhile, is over China’s claims to waters surrounding Indonesia’s Natuna Islands.

We hasten to add that, like Scarborough Shoal, none of these issues will be finding their way onto this year’s Asean Summit agenda either – nor will the fact that China is not the only country building structures on these remote reefs and cays. Vietnam presently occupies around 30 outcrops in the Spratlys on which it’s constructed a number of military facilities and continues to build. Naturally, that’s not something the media dwells on as Vietnam is seen by them as another foil with which it can prod Beijing.

But China and Asean members had a mechanism for resolving maritime territorial disputes that predates Aquino’s unilateral filing of the case in The Hague by more than a decade. In 2002, China and the full complement of Asean states signed the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea – an undertaking by which they all agreed to use “friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned …” in the disputes – ‘sovereign states directly concerned’ being the operative words.

Beijing has never waivered from its position, that: “On issues concerning territorial sovereignty and maritime delimitation, China does not accept any recourse to third party dispute settlement; nor does China accept any solution imposed on it”.

For those Asean states involved in maritime disputes with the Mainland, bilateral negotiation is – and has been for some time – the approved and accepted course of action. As far as Asean states that have no such maritime claims – that’s Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand – their position is simple: they have no position, other than to urge friendly resolution, and they will not be drawn by Western powers with vested interests into taking a position.

These are extremely sensitive matters; diplomatically and every other way. The full leadership of Asean is well aware of that and will not be raising anything that’s likely to embarrass any of their members which this issue most certainly would.

All that, then, is a rather long-winded way of saying what we said at the beginning: that Scarborough Shoal, and the wrangling over it – despite the yearning from Duterte’s opponents who want him on the spot over this – will not be taking up any official time at the 2017 Asean Summit.

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    • If it’s political blunder, it will be settled when he steps down from office.

      But if his decision is to ignore what the arbitral award ONLY stated, that China’s INDISPUTABLE SOVEREIGNTY CLAIM OVER THE WHOLE OF SOUTH CHINA SEA is illegal then from now and forever expect that China will exercise what she is announcing – that China has INDISPUTABLE SOVEREIGNTY OVER THE WHOLE OF SOUTH CHINA SEA and then we move on from that point.

  • Talk is cheap. All these vested interests groups are nothing but hecklers and mirons (morons) which won’t stop in bringing the country to chaos viz a viz the ASEAN. It won’t happen with a strong president like Rodrigo Roa Duterte. This warrior is cunning and he smells the adversaries’ stinking motives a mile away. Eat your heart out morons!

    • Prudence is a virtue that a strong leader possesses ms. Alma Fe Garcia Javelosa . There is a perfect timing for everything. Hindi po lahat nadadaan sa vrasohan. Minsan himas lng ang kelangan. Kaya po sya strong hindi sya kaya utoin d kgaya nun dating namuno, utouto kaya eto ang resulta.

    • Alma javelosa whatever, keep shut your mouth if u have nothing good to say. And dont down grade the President on what he has done for the country. Halleluia! U are an idiot, for the truth

    • Cunning potty mouth president? Kapag gusto magmura ng kahit sino will do except mirror ex-PGMA’s foreign policy base on dependency with China?

      On the ground it is already settled. China is in possession of twelve geographical features, Taiwan one, Vietnam twenty-one, Malaysia five and the Philippines nine.


      And the Arbitral award? The award did not delimit maritime boundaries nor gave territorial sovereignty BUT DECLARED CHINA’S NINE-DASH CLAIM OVER SCS AS ILLEGAL.

      And not referring to the arbitral award is a cunning act? More like an idiot pretending there is nothing wrong having a mistress while BIG brother China is saying ALL WOMEN are his?

    • So you’re the expert Rommel Adap Catalan , how do you go about it if you’re on the shoes of the president? Criticizing is ok if constructive so perhaps you can suggest what will be the solution. What we are pointing out here is timing and prudence. This is a sensitive matter which has to be handled delicately. I doubt that this can even be resolved during the whole term of PRRD. the pragmatism of the president is to gain as much concessions politically or economically beneficial to the Philippines. Madali magpuna pero kung kulang sa gawa, nganga.

    • Maam Lourdes Blanco, why will I keep my mouth shut? Does the Bill of Rights specifically say that only Lourdes Blanco has freedom of speech? Ignorance of the law excuses no one from being branded IGNORANT.

    • Alma Fe Garcia Javelosa hindi totally nadisregard un arbitral ruling, buhay pa po, at hindi lng ngaun ang panahon pra pgusapan. May tamang oras pa jan. Panu nauto ang pangulo samantalang may concession or investment na nakuha? Ang nauto yun mga miron na wala magawa kundi manulsol o pumuna ng ala nman maitulong sa bayan. Gusto pabagsakin eroplano samantalang nakasakay din sila. Hay mahirap cguro mk move on un mga nauto nun dating namuno na utouto din.

    • Clemente Sarte, offhand, why will I ride a plane piloted by a psychiatric case when I can have a decent pilot to a peaceful, progressive and beautiful place? Adopting a recent event, why will I fly United Airlines when I can fly with a better managed airline? Do not be presumptuous.

    • Then there’s no one stopping you from flying any plane, just don’t shoot the pilot down (the president) since day one. By all means you can leave the country ms. Alma Fe Garcia Javelosa if you can’t stand the president’s style of leadership. What am saying is that we are all in the same plane here and yet there are groups which I deem you belong who are hell bent in bringing the nation down. So I guess you have to wait for the next election 5 yrs from now. Meanwhile, just grin and bear if you don’t want to leave the country. Peace be with you.

  • Wish ko lang makamtan ng Pilipinas under Asean a strong Peso to benefit the majority from the ravages of high cost of living when in the first place fifty years ago the value of our peso was way way lower vs today. My question is can Asean acomplish it? Sayang maraming heads of state ay nandirito….kasali ba ito sa agenda. Can anyone help to answer my concern. Salamat po!

  • Peace and diplomacy is always the way to go. These war hawks are all talk. When conflict really breaks out, expect these war-hawks masquerading as “patriots” to act turn chicken and leave the Philippines.

    • War hawks? Is there an impending War?

      China has indisputable sovereignty CLAIM OVER THE WHOLE OF SOUTH CHINA SEA and China possesses NUCLEAR WEAPONS AND TRUE DEEP BLUE OCEAN NAVY with an economy to sustain indefinite war.

      Yet the arbitral award STATED THAT CHINA’S NINE-DASH CLAIM OVER SCS IS ILLEGAL and when the mahal na pangulong potty mouth would like to ignore the arbitral award, you would POINT A FINGER THAT WAR HAWKS are undermining the president’s policy of independent foreign policy base on dependency with China?

      Parang tinanung ka tatay mo nasan ang asawa mo, sagot mo ey tay ayaw ko ng away, si wifey ey BINIGAY KO muna kay China para dalirutin at ibabalik din naman nya yun BALANG-ARAW. 😀😁😂😃😄😅

  • sobrang inggit ba sa Pangulo ,ows ! yayaman nyo na .WALA KAYONG KASIYAHAN .Syria nga binobomba nang chemical weapon ,dahil mga rebelde daw . Hey gawin nang legal ang illegal para walang dahilang patayin at ikulong

  • (Briefly, what they would like is for the 10-member Asean executive to reference last year’s ruling by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration that the Philippines has sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal, a group of rock outcrops that takes its name from a British East India Company clipper ship that grounded there in 1784. Those opposed to China want to keep this dispute alive as long as possible; those who vilify Duterte want to ram it in his face.)

    This statements are but cases of churchillian terminological inexactitude, a lie.


    What is so SIGNIFICANT with the award is CHINA’S NINE-DASH CLAIM which the award stated is ILLEGAL.


    hindi naman hinihiya ang mahal na pangulong digung. Para laang ganere yaan. Tanung ni tatay anak nasan baga ang iyung asawa? Ey tay aayaw ko baga ng away kayat naduon muna si wifey kay China. Hayaiy tay muna nyang dalirutin si wifey at balang-araw namay magsawa din sya at ISASAULE.

    what is more shameful? The shame of ignoring China’s illegal activities or licking China’s arse so not to offend the emperor?