Manila appears to be a fickle player in international politics since its recent arbitration request on the South China Sea issue completely disregards its previous consensus with China and violates what it has agreed on.
Over the past few months, the Philippines has constantly resorted to unilateral moves to generate publicity and rake up support for its South China Sea claim, at the cost of Manila-Beijing ties and regional stability.
Manila’s bag of tricks includes baselessly accusing China of “bullying” in the area, shamefully disseminating such unwarranted allegations, and tirelessly courting external powers for patronage.
Such unconstructive moves, also epitomized by Manila’s stubborn arbitration request, ran against the spirit of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), in which relevant parties, including the Philippines, promise to exercise self-restraint and refrain from complicating the matter.
It is worth noting that Manila’s arbitration request over the South China Sea does not hold water since the case basically revolves around the territorial sovereignty over several maritime features in the South China Sea, which is beyond the scope of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea under which Manila initiated the arbitration.
China has made it clear it will not accept or get involved in these proceedings initiated unilaterally by the Philippines.
By disregarding China’s opposition and taking the case to an international tribunal, Manila’s publicity stunt is eroding mutual trust between Manila and Beijing, which has already taken a hit after a raft of provocations on the Philippine side regarding the South China Sea issue.
China has long exercised restraint in the face of Manila’s various provocations and insists that the South China Sea disputes be resolved through bilateral talks between rival claimants, and that practice has been widely used in resolving territorial disputes.
Philippine leaders may be tempted to continue bold unilateral moves on the South China Sea since Washington has bestowed both vocal and material support. For example, Daniel Russell, assistant U.S. secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, lavished favorable comments on Manila’s arbitration request.
But Manila should realize that even its most zealous cheerleader is unlikely to come to its rescue if the game goes awry.
It is therefore advisable that Manila immediately halt all provocations over the South China Sea issue and return to the right track of solving its dispute with China via bilateral talks.
As for Washington, its proclaimed neutral position regarding the issue would only be convincing if it stops pampering Manila and abandons all moves that jeopardize regional stability. Enditem