Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said at a summit involving Xi Jinping on Monday (November 22) that he was “disgusted” by the recent dispute between Chinese ships and the Philippines in the South China Sea.
This is the rare case that the Philippine president, who has always been regarded as friendly to China, expresses his dissatisfaction when facing a Chinese leader.
In the same video conference, Xi Jinping stated that China “resolutely opposes hegemonism and power politics.” He emphasized that China “will never seek hegemony, let alone bullying the small with the big.”
As the situation in the South China Sea has become tense again recently, China hopes to dispel the region’s concerns about China’s rising power and influence at this meeting called the “30th Anniversary of the China-ASEAN Dialogue Relations.”
“Without peace, nothing can be discussed,” Xi Jinping said. “China firmly opposes hegemonism and power politics, and is willing to live in friendship with neighboring countries for a long time, and jointly maintain lasting peace in the region, and will never seek hegemony, let alone bullying the small with the big.”
Last week, Chinese Coast Guard ships fired water cannons on two supply ships heading to Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea to deliver supplies to Philippine soldiers, triggering strong protests in Manila. This is a disputed area, called Ren’ai Reef by China, and Ayunjin Reef by the Philippines.
Philippine Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin said in a statement that the Philippines expressed “anger, condemnation and protest” to the Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs “in the strongest terms” and reminded China of its ships. It is protected by the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.
However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China stated that the operation of the Chinese Coast Guard ship is to “execute official duties in accordance with the law and safeguard China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime order.”
At the video summit, Philippine President Duterte condemned the incident in his speech and used the Filipino name of the island.
“We hate the recent incident at Ayunjin Reef and are seriously concerned about other similar developments. This is not conducive to the relationship between our two countries and our partnership,” Duterte said at the meeting.
Duterte also called on China to respect the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2016 Hague arbitration award.
In the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on the South China Sea arbitration, it almost fully agreed with Manila’s claims, and held that under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, China does not enjoy the historical nature of the South China Sea’s natural resources based on the “nine-dash line”. right. China refused to recognize this ruling.
“We must make full use of these legal tools to ensure that the South China Sea remains a sea of peace, stability and prosperity,” Duterte said.
South China Sea Storm Renewed
The South China Sea contains rich oil and gas resources and is an important navigation route between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. However, there are disputes in many areas of the South China Sea. Mainland China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei all have sovereign claims in their localities.
For example, the Second Thomas Reef, which is more than 200 kilometers away from the Philippine coastline, is one of the cores of the long-term sovereignty dispute between China and the Philippines. In 1999, the Philippines was accused of deliberately grounding a dilapidated landing ship “Mount Madre” on the Second Thomas Reef to strengthen its actual control over the reef.
China repeatedly asked the Philippines to tow the ship away, but was ignored, so Beijing continued to send law enforcement ships to patrol the waters and surrounded the islands and reefs.
In recent years, China has also built airstrips and other facilities on several disputed islands controlled by China through artificial island expansion, and used navy and maritime militias to drive away ships of other countries deemed to have intruded into the country’s exclusive economic zone.
In March of this year, the Philippines claimed that more than 200 Chinese militia ships entered Oxbow Reef (Whitsun Reef in English, and Julian Felipe Reef in the Philippines) without permission, leaving the situation silent for several years. Tension again. The Philippines considers the reef to be part of its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.
However, China stated that Oxbow Reef is part of China’s Nansha Islands, and Chinese ships are only there to “shelter the wind”.
Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob also mentioned the South China Sea issue in his speech at the conference. He stated that, as one of the sovereign claimants, Malaysia firmly believes that “issues related to the South China Sea must be resolved in a peaceful and constructive manner in accordance with the generally recognized principles of international law.”
“Malaysia calls on all countries to continue their commitment to maintaining the South China Sea as a sea of peace, stability and trade,” his office quoted him as saying. “For this purpose, all parties should exercise self-restraint and avoid actions that may be considered provocative, which may further complicate the situation and escalate tensions in the region.”
The reason why Duterte’s speech at the summit surprised the outside world is that the maverick president has been committed to improving economic cooperation with Beijing, and has even been criticized in China for being “excessively pro-China”, and “Weak” on the South China Sea issue.
After taking office in 2016, he handled the outcome of the South China Sea arbitration case in a low-key manner. Until May of this year, he still stated that the outcome of the South China Sea arbitration case “should be thrown into the trash.”
But in recent months, Duterte’s attitude seems to have changed, including the restoration of the Philippines and the US military exchange agreement, and the retention of the tradition of joint military exercises between the two militaries. After the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia announced the “AUKUS” Australia-UK-US security agreement, which was seen as a counterbalance to China, Manila expressed its support.
Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst at Rand Corp, an American think tank, wrote this month that Duterte may feel a bit “abandoned” because of his “enthusiastic embrace of China.” It never produced the results he expected.”
Grossman analyzed that Duterte hopes to conduct joint exploration in disputed areas in the South China Sea and use the “Belt and Road” initiative to support his own “Build! Build! Build!” plan. , But these have not yet been achieved. At the same time, China has strengthened its military presence in the South China Sea.
In contrast, the Philippines and the United States seem to be constantly sending out signals to restore relations. In late August, the commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, General John Aquilino (John Aquilino) visited the Philippines to reiterate the alliance between the two countries. In September, Philippine Foreign Minister Lochin and Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana (Delfin Lorenzana) both visited Washington to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Mutual Defense Treaty.
Duterte’s presidency will end in June 2022. According to the Philippine Constitution, he cannot be re-elected.
“Duterte’s pro-China policy seems to be dead, or at least sustaining life. Although he may continue to praise Beijing between now and next June, he may continue to praise Beijing, but his actions are likely to prioritize Washington,” he Added.