Amid media rhetoric in Beijing and China’s ongoing naval drills, the Philippine government is formulating plans to move closer to that country, whatever be the Hague tribunal’s ruling on South China Sea on July 12.
MINDANAO, Philippines — The Philippine government has made two strategic moves days before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague announces its decision on rival claims over the strategic South China Sea.
Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay, Jr. said the Duterte administration is in the process of designating a special envoy to discuss with China the possibilities to ease tensions in the disputed waters.
Yasay, a former US-based international lawyer and Hawaii professor, said that amid rising tensions, there is urgent need for a special envoy to help resolve these disputes.
He also hinted that if the UN tribunal ruling will only concern China and the Philippines, Manila will enter into bilateral negotiations with Beijing.
The Philippine government will ask the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to take a united stand on the sea disputes to pressure China to respect the tribunal’s decision.
China is the fourth largest trading partner of ASEAN after European Union, Japan and the U.S and the value of China-ASEAN trade is estimated at $500 billion.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said a war with China was a futile move. Instead, he wants China to build a railway system in Mindanao.
Dr. Adian Semorlan, Asia Sociology Professor, said to Asia Times that Duterte does not see China as an enemy but as an Asian partner for the development of Philippines, particularly Mindanao – the President’s home town.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has one of the most outdated military assets in the region and is plagued by corruption allegations linking top military officers with military hardware suppliers.
The AFP is struggling to end armed conflicts with different Islamist groups in the Southern Philippines and the left-leaning New People’s Army.
Addressing soldiers during the 69th anniversary of the armed forces, Duterte appealed to China to begin talks.
“Looking at the moves of Duterte, he wants to initiate a bilateral dialogue with China,” Semorlan said.
Earlier, China had hinted at extending friendship to the incoming President when its ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua paid a courtesy call on Duterte when the latter had established a significant lead in the presidential race two weeks after the May presidential elections.
During that visit, Zhao underlined the importance of developing bilateral relations with the Duterte administration.
In the meantime, while awaiting the tribunal’s ruling, the US government is working on the establishment of six military facilities in the Philippines as part of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the two countries.
Although analysts view the proposed facilities as a move to counter China, the US has denied it on several occasions.
The move on military facilities has sparked protests by left-leaning militant organizations and grassroot-level organizations in different parts of the country.
Philippine laws disallow the presence of foreign bases in the Philippines.
Noel Tarrazona is a Vancouver-based freelance international journalist and is presently in the Philippines. He is also a senior analyst of wikistrat and he can be reached at email@example.com
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