Thursday, June 25, 2015

Philippines challenging China is game-changer

Posted at 06/17/2015 10:46 PM | Updated as of 06/23/2015 9:19 AM


A "game-changer" was how a Filipino security expert described the Philippines' decision to challenge Beijing's claim over nearly 90 percent of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

And a decision by the international tribunal would serve as benchmark in settling international maritime disputes, said Prof. Chester Cabalza of the National Defense College of the Philippines.

But what happens if the ruling, expected to come out next year, does not favor the Philippines?

It could likewise be "game-changing," Cabalza said, "in terms of the security environment in the Asia-Pacific."
"If we lose the case, (then) it’s going to be a new era for China. Definitely, they will flex their muscle," he told ABS-CBN News.

Like Cabalza, former Ambassador Jose Apolinario Lozada is confident of a Philippine victory in the arbitral court, saying the government could “really vouch for the truth and veracity of the documents that we are presenting.”

“(But) in the remote possibility that we lose in the arbitration, then we have no choice. We have to look for another solution and maybe drastically sit down with the Chinese,” Lozada said.

“But are we going to wait for that? I think we should not.”

Lozada, a China expert who also served as foreign affairs adviser during the Ramos administration, said the government should explore bilateral talks with China over Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal).

“On the part of the Scarborough, it is a bilateral problem between us and China. I say bilateral because it’s a common problem between the two countries,” he said.

“So it’s logical that we should really sit down with China, (try) to reach out and agree with them on solving that.”
Cabalza said there’s no harm in a bilateral approach despite the existing arbitration case.

Lozada played down a Philippine victory in the tribunal, saying it would “just be a public relations issue that would really give the (country) some push, some good words from the other countries.”

Lozada acknowledged that bilateral talks with China on Panatag at this time would not be easy, especially with the impression that the United States is meddling too much.

He said such talks could still involve the U.S. and other Southeast Asian neighbors as observers.

Lozada is optimistic Manila and Beijing could sit down, despite their raging word war, especially when China began reclamation activities in the Spratlys.

“We can just really erase everything and start anew,” he said.

“For mature countries—and I know the Philippines and China are already mature diplomatically—we can really look at this, sit down and in good faith, we should be able to understand the claim of the Philippines and the claim of China.”
The Philippines occupies eight islands in the Spratlys, namely: Kota (Loaita Island), Lawak (Nansham Island), Likas (West York Island), Panata (Lamkian Cay), Pag-asa (Thitu Island), Parola (North East Cay), Patag (Flat Island), and Rizal (Commodore Reef).

China’s reclamation activities cover Burgos (Gaven), Calderon (Cuarteron), Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Mabini (Johnson South), McKennan (Hughes), Panganiban (Mischief), and Zamora (Subi) reefs.

Magdalo Rep. Francisco Ashley Acedillo said the Philippines could talk with China at “lower levels” like on matters such as trade and cultural exchanges.

“Yes, we must be hopeful of engaging China in a more constructive and friendly manner,” he said. “But at the same time, let us be ready to exert our sovereignty and our prerogatives over what we consider as our national territory.”
At the very least, Lozada said Beijing and Manila could “agree to disagree” on Panatag.

That may not sound much, but in foreign diplomacy, that could go a long way.

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