Tuesday, July 12, 2016

‘CHexit’ PH waters urged: Netizens raise call on eve of UN ruling

IT IS TIME for China to do a #CHexit from the West Philippine Sea, social media users and activists in the Philippines said on Monday on the eve of a crucial UN tribunal ruling.

Inspired by the Brexit term coined for Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, the catchy new reference for China has quickly gained currency on Facebook, Twitter and protest placards ahead of the verdict of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on Beijing’s claims to most of South China Sea, including Philippine territorial waters.

“We ask our friends from other countries, especially our brothers and sisters in Southeast Asia, to call for a #CHexit,” Mong Palatino said as he protested with a small group of people outside the Chinese Consulate in Manila.

"China should stop bullying its neighbors."

On social media, some of the messages were more blunt. “China, get out of Philippine territory! #CHEXIT,” wrote @emiletabiar on Twitter.

“The West Philippine Sea is not for you to own. #CHexit,” said @rmcocoba.

Other Filipinos were not amused. “‘CHexit’?!?!? Cringing on this one,” said @titobabis.

China claims nearly all of the strategically vital sea, even waters approaching the coasts of the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations.

Challenging China claim

Manila filed a case in the arbitral tribunal in The Hague in 2013 challenging China’s claim.

China refused to participate in the hearings and vowed to ignore Tuesday's verdict.

Experts have said that the ruling is likely to be in Manila’s favor.

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesperson, Charles Jose, said the ruling would clarify the maritime entitlements of coastal states like the Philippines based on the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In a statement on June 29, the court said it would not rule on questions of sovereignty over the land territory and would not delimit any maritime boundary between the parties.

China has repeatedly announced it will not abide by the arbitration court, saying the Philippines failed to exhaust negotiations to settle disputes.

Former Foreign Undersecretary Lauro Baja Jr. said “China will use every excuse to justify (its moves). They (Chinese) are worried that the tribunal panel will rule against them.”

“The decibels of China’s rhetorics are increasing. If we analyze the statements coming from China, they look like people who are losing,” Baja said.

Comply with Ruling

The Philippines has called on China to respect and comply with the decision.

The DFA said it was confident that the arbitration ruling would be favorable to the Philippines, but maintained it would “respect and comply” if ever the ruling was favorable to China.

A key factor that could change the equation of the consequences of The Hague ruling is how President Duterte decides to respond.

His predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, filed the case, straining Manila’s relations with Beijing, but Duterte has shown readiness to mend frosty ties with China.

Mr. Duterte has pointed out the benefits of nurturing friendly relations with Beijing, including a Chinese offer of financing railway projects in the Philippines. His rise has given China an opening to make inroads in one of America’s closest security allies.

Last week, Mr. Duterte said his administration stood ready to talk to China if the Philippines gets a favorable ruling.

“When it’s favorable to us, let’s talk,” he said. “We are not prepared to go to war, war is a dirty word.”

It remains to be seen, however, how far Mr. Duterte can stray from Manila’s critical stance on Beijing’s territorial assertiveness, given his country’s close ties with Washington and growing nationalist sentiment against Chinese actions.

The decision of the arbitral court would test the mettle of Mr. Duterte as the country’s chief diplomat, said Chester Cabalza, a professor at National Defense College of the Philippines.

Jay Batongbacal, an expert on South China Sea issues at the University of the Philippines, said Manila should avoid revealing its cards ahead of potential negotiations with Beijing, “otherwise you lose the leverage that you have.”

Experts say the outcome of the dispute could provide ammunition for other countries involved in disputes with China.

Six states have overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea—China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

In addition, China’s nine-dash line overlaps waters that are part of Indonesia’s internationally recognized exclusive economic zone.

“This is a time for China not to keep pushing forward too aggressively because they could embolden Vietnam and Indonesia to file a case as well,” said Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Regardless, the ruling is unlikely to stop China from continuing to pursue more effective control over the sea space and airspace of the South China Sea, Glaser said.

US exercises

Over the last few months, the United States has held combined exercises by two Navy aircraft carrier strike groups off the coast of the Philippines and freedom of navigation cruises near China’s man-made islands to assert its presence in the Western Pacific.

Chinese state media have accused Washington of trying to turn the South China Sea “into a powder keg” and warned it not to underestimate China’s determination to defend its territorial claims.

Chinese warships, fighter jets and submarines have held live-fire war games as part of what the People’s Liberation Army Navy called routine exercises in the week running up to the tribunal’s ruling, drills that were seen at least in part responding to the US presence.

“There’s a real game of nerves going on here with China perhaps assuming that the US is bluffing and the US hoping that China will actually not test American resolve,” said Hugh White, professor of strategic studies of Australian National University. Reports from AFP, AP, Nikko Dizon and Estrella Torres

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