Editor's Pick News South China Sea: Waters of Contention

Del Rosario fights media battle while China controls battlefield


Albert del RosarioSTATEMENTS coming from Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario betray helplessness over the situation in the South China Sea.

The Philippines is losing the battle that he led the country to wage against China.

Last Thursday Del Rosario said that the Philippines will ask the United Nations Arbitral Court to hasten the resolution of the 2013 suit it filed questioning the legality of China’s nine-dash line map in the light of the latter’s expansion activities on islands they are occupying in the disputed areas of the Spratlys in the South China Sea.

Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza had said that they expect the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea to rule on both jurisdiction and merit of the Philippine claim “between 2015 to 2016.” China has refused to participate in the Philippine case.

Earlier, del Rosario said he will ask the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to call for a moratorium on activities in the South China Sea. Four –Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei – out of ten Asean members have conflicting claims in the Spratlys.

China is not a member of Asean. If Asean issues a call for a moratorium, who will be bound by it? The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. Aren’t we tying our own hands while China continues fortifying their claims?

Besides there’s already the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea which China has signed.

The 2002 DOC states that “The Parties undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.”

That particular provision is carried in the draft Code of Conduct in the South China Sea which Asean has approved and is being negotiated with China.

Analysts said that China’s expansion- turning rocks they have occupied into islands by reclamation- is in anticipation of the signing of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea which would exhort signatories to maintain the status quo in the disputed areas at the time of the signing.

There nothing wrong for an Asean call for moratorium but if Del Rosario thinks that’s something that would persuade China, he is dreaming. He should know that territorial conflicts are not resolved by dreams.

Mabini Reef5If China is expanding their occupied territories (they are not taking over new rocks or islets, so far), why can’t the Philippines do the same? We have presence in nine features in Spratlys as against Vietnam’s more than 20, China’s 8, Malaysia’s 4, Taiwan’s one. Zero for Brunei.

What prevents the Philippines from occupying more rocks or islets? Why don’t we ground another Philippine Navy ships in one of those unoccupied rocks like what the Navy did with The BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin shoal in 1999.

Del Rosario has shunned bilateral talks with China which puzzles other foreign policy experts. Former Ambassador to the United Nations Lauro Baja Jr. has criticized this policy saying “The negotiating table is the greatest equalizer in international relations.“ He said whatever the size of the country, all are equal in negotiations.

Vietnam and China are talking despite a much-more serious conflict between them.

Del Rosario has also told President Aquino about his opposition to backchannel talks thereby closing informal communication with China, which has proven effective in other countries experience in conflict resolution.

Del Rosario talks to China through the media– complaining about China’s actions before filing a protest and announcing the Philippines’ next moves before actually doing it. A journalist friend said , “We are fighting a media battle while China has already occupied the battlefield.”