Monday, July 18, 2016

Slam dunk, soft landing in West Philippine Sea

Tony La Viña, "Slam dunk, soft landing in West Philippine Sea," The Standard

The arbitral award handed down last week by a tribunal convened under the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the South China/West Philippine Sea dispute presented in his first week of office an immediate and consequential test for President Rodrigo Duterte. In my view, the new Philippine President passed the initial test. So far there is calm in the seas in dispute and more importantly calm in the streets of Beijing and Manila.
Slam dunks are spectacular but if the aerial artist lands badly, it would not be remembered. Indeed, in the West Philippine Sea, the Philippines won a legal slam dunk; thankfully, the soft landing so far preserves that win.
But the next steps are critical. ...
What is important is that we have succeeded in defending our legal rights over the disputed islands. We should continue our diplomatic initiatives, securing the support of our Asean partners, United States, Japan, India, the European Union, and other countries. They are neutral on the region’s sovereignty disputes and are firmly supportive of the legal process, engaging in their own public diplomacy effort bolstering the decision. China of course has been engaged in coalition-building efforts of its own—with less success, it seems.
Although the Philippines was optimistic in winning the arbitration, few expected such a total victory, winning all our major points. Legally, it is the best scenario that could be imagined. But such a complete victory also poses it own challenge. ...
[W]e should prepare for re-engaging with China on both bilateral and multilateral fronts. This time, we have the arbitral tribunal’s decision as leverage. Hopefully, former President Fidel V. Ramos will lend his gravitas to this important mission. He is the right man for the job as he knows the meaning of win-win solutions. For the moment, we should forget about joint development or commercial agreements with China on the resources of the West Philippine Sea. Let’s start instead with something so doable and also urgent—bilateral cooperation on the protection of the marine environment. This is non-controversial, within the Constitution, and can rebuild trust. ...

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