Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte must end his “policy of submission” towards Beijing, lawmakers and foreign policy experts have said, warning that the Philippine leader’s silence sends the wrong signal as hundreds of Chinese “maritime militia” vessels continue to be more exclusive within Manilas Economy Gathering Zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea.
While several Filipino officials, including the country’s top diplomat and the defense chief, have openly demanded that Chinese ships leave the country’s waters immediately, Duterte has remained silent for weeks.
During a speech on Thursday evening, Duterte made no mention of the South China Sea. His spokesman previously said the president preferred to pursue his “diplomatic initiatives” “privately”.
On Thursday, the Philippine Coast Guard announced that despite repeated demands from Manila that Chinese ships would leave Whitsun, at least 240 Chinese ships remained in the region and the surrounding waters on Wednesday.
The ships were first spotted on March 7th on Whitsun, which is approximately 320 km west of Palawan Island and within the Philippine EEZ as defined by the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague. Since the first reported sighting, the ships have spread over an even larger area.
In a statement Thursday, Senator Leila de Lima, an opposition member, warned that the Philippines could become “just another satellite of China” if Duterte and the military did not confront China.
De Lima said that despite the United States’ support for Manila’s position in the South China Sea, Duterte’s “groveling before China” policy could prove detrimental to the integrity of Filipino territory.
The Philippines have maintained a mutual defense pact with the United States for almost 70 years. But since Duterte took office in 2016, he has cultivated closer ties with China, openly showing his contempt for Washington and even threatening to end the U.S.-Philippine military alliance.
Risa Hontiveros, another opposition senator, said it was time for Duterte to confront his “best friend” China about its “blatant deception”.
“China is really careful not to use diplomatic means to resolve our disputes,” she said.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila has insisted that what it has termed “fishing vessels” “seek shelter” only near the reef due to bad weather, adding that the area was and is part of a traditional fishing area for Chinese fishermen of the Chinese Nansha Islands or Spratlys, which is also controversial.
“Do you speak”
Retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, an expert on international law, said China will not take the Philippines’ position seriously unless Duterte speaks and defends the country’s sovereignty.
“THE PRESIDENT MUST SPEAK, HE MUST STAND BY HIMSELF WHEN HIS SUBSIDIANS CANNOT HEAR THE SPEAKING CHINA”
Antonio Carpio, Justice Minister of Ret SA, says China will only take the PH seriously if PDuterte speaks and calls for the withdrawal of its 246 militia vessels in the WPS EEZ #ANCHeadstart pic.twitter.com/DQhIePvd7z
– Karen Davila (@iamkarendavila) April 15, 2021
“He has to get up himself. Because when its subordinates speak, China will not listen. And if the president is silent, China will continue … the Chinese will take us seriously when the president speaks, “Carpio said in an interview with ABS-CBN news channel on Thursday.
Carpio, who was part of the Philippine team that made a positive decision in The Hague in 2016, also denied China’s claim that the vessels were involved in the fishery within the Philippine EEZ.
“The maritime militia ships are manned by maritime militias under the payroll of the Chinese government. Indeed, the maritime militias are under the command of the [Chinese] Marine, ”he said.
The Hague Tribunal has stated that the Philippines has exclusive control over the resources within its EEZ. However, this judgment was dismissed as “null and void” by China, which continues to claim almost the entire South China Sea under its so-called “nine-dash line”.
If the “weak approach” of the Duterte government in the confrontation with China continues, other countries could also take on additional functions within the EEZ of the Philippines in the future, said Liz Derr, co-founder and CEO of Simularity, a US geospatial company based in southern China. that monitors incursions in the South China Sea.
China has already set up naval and air facilities on an artificial island on Mischief Reef, which is also in the Philippine EEZ. China has also created an island in Scarborough Shoal that was controlled by the Philippines until 2012.
“Unfortunately the Philippines are weak. We saw and documented what other applicants did to support their applications, ”Derr told an online forum organized by the Manila-based think tank Stratbase ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies.
“We saw how much weaker the Philippines are when it comes to protection [its] Area compared to the other applicants. If this weakness persists, more features will certainly be occupied by other countries, ”she stressed.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila has insisted that the “fishing vessels” in the Philippine EEZ only “seek shelter” because of bad weather. The area was a traditional fishing area for Chinese fishermen and part of the Chinese Nansha Islands or Spratlys, which is also controversial [Philippine Coast Guard]
Support the EEZ
Compared to the Philippines, Vietnam has strengthened its sovereignty over its own EEZ by building 29 outposts in the Spratlys, she said. Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim parts of the South China Sea.
Derr acknowledged that the Philippines is unlikely to reclaim the man-made islands built by other countries, including China, within Manila’s EEZ.
She called on the Philippine government to protect their own EEZ by occupying the vacant Spratly properties.
Carpio, the former Supreme Court Justice, agrees.
“Otherwise China will beat us,” he said. “China is just going to put something there and we can’t do anything. We should build structures within our EEZ. “
Former Philippine Secretary of State Albert del Rosario said in a statement on Thursday that he shared former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s concern that the Philippines could become a “subject” of China if it fails to stand up to Beijing’s “duplicity” and is a tyrant ” .
“In our opinion, Secretary Clinton is absolutely right in expressing her concern that the Philippines could become an issue for China. Until the last Filipino headed by [Foreign Affairs] secretary [Teodoro] Locsin and [Defense] secretary [Delfin] Lorenzana, we finally have to assert ourselves against Beijing’s duplicity and be a tyrant, ”said del Rosario.
In an interview published Tuesday, Clinton told Philippine news website Rappler that she feared the Philippines would “basically become an issue for China through financial investment, through buying influence, through undermining institutions.”
“I think there is a real danger that the Philippines – no matter who the leader is – will become increasingly unable to act without Chinese approval. I don’t think the Philippines would like to have this future, ”Clinton told rappler’s Maria Ressa.