By Nikko Dizon
MANILA, Philippines—In the face of Beijing’s expanding reclamation work in the West Philippine Sea, the Philippines’ best hope still lies in a United Nations arbitral committee hearing its complaint against China, security experts said.
Diplomacy is still the country’s “best strategy,” said Chester Cabalza of the National Defense College of the Philippines told the Inquirer by phone.
“We are really hinging on the voice of the international community,” Cabalza said.
He said there are really only two things that China would do should the international court rule in favor of the Philippines: give in to world pressure or ignore it altogether and continue with its expansionism.
Moral high ground
Military historian Jose Antonio Custodio said the Philippines was still “trying to lead by example by following the moral high ground.”
“We still follow the rules-based approach. We earn international sympathy and hope that with the international pressure, China would abandon its claims, which I doubt it would do,” Custodio said in a separate interview.
Cabalza and Custodio noted one weakness of the Philippines in the face of China’s power: the country’s limited capability to protect its territory.
Cabalza said that while the Philippines is modernizing its Armed Forces, it is a “very slow process.”
According to Custodio, the government ought to take “steps to strengthen the country’s capabilities” other than the military.
‘White on white’
He said the Philippines’ Coast Guard should also be strengthened as the face-off at sea is always a “white on white,” the term used for Coast Guard vessels.
A “grey on grey” refers to Navy ships.
According to Philippine defense and foreign affairs officials, China continues to undertake “massive” reclamation work in violation of the agreement among South China Sea claimants that each country would maintain the status quo until a binding code of conduct is reached.
The United States has again expressed concern over China’s recent activities in the West Philippine Sea. China has reportedly been expanding its land reclamation activities in disputed territories like the Gavin Reef (Gaven Reef), Calderon Reef (Cuarteron Reef), and Mabini Reef (Johnson South Reef).
Discussed with US
The matter was apparently discussed at the recent fifth bilateral strategic dialogue between the Philippines and the United States. The United States was represented by US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel who was in Manila from Jan. 21 to 22.
Malacañang yesterday reiterated the concern expressed by Russel and Philippine foreign affairs officials that the “developments in the South China Sea… are inconsistent with the 2002 Asean-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and international law.”
“The joint statement emphasized the importance of upholding peace and stability, respect for international law, unimpeded lawful commerce, and freedom of navigation and overflight,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma.
“The two sides reiterated that international disputes in the South China Sea should be settled in accordance with international law, and through diplomatic and other peaceful means, including the use of international arbitration,” Coloma added.
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