Friday, July 15, 2016

Rodrigo Duterte's Turn in the South China Sea

Harry Krejsa, The Diplomat

Rodrigo image from article
A tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) recently released its long-awaited judgment in the Philippines vs. China case. The case is the culmination of years of careful judicial and diplomatic positioning by the Philippines, rejecting the legality of China’s dubious claims to 90 percent of the South China Sea and its island-building operations in the disputed waterway. Yet even though the court’s ruling broadly favors the Philippines, the country’s new and bombastic president, Rodrigo Duterte, seems worryingly open to derailing his predecessors’ hard-won efforts. Unless Duterte walks back his campaign rhetoric dismissing arbitration and offering up concessions to China, he could squander a major opportunity to secure greater stability for the Philippines and the region. ...
Prior to its presidential elections, the Philippines had sought such support from the Association for Southeast Asian Nations for its resort to international law in the South China Sea. The United States, which is neutral on the region’s sovereignty disputes, is firmly supportive of the legal process and engaging in its own public diplomacy effort bolstering the decision. It has been rallying regional partners like Japan, Australia, South Korea, and India, to voice their support for the legal process and to call on both parties to abide. China has been engaged in coalition building efforts of its own, however, encouraging countries like Russia and Cambodia to reject the arbitration process. Duterte’s proposal to return to direct negotiations with Beijing suggests he does not yet value multilateral political pressure as an important tool when making foreign policy in a militarily weak state. ...

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