CHINA is setting a trap against the Philippines in pushing for bilateral talks over the maritime dispute in the West Philippine Sea even as the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague is set to issue a ruling on China’s controversial “9-dash line” claim, according to an American expert.
Speaking in a forum at the National Defense College of the Philippines on Tuesday, Center for Strategic and International Studies senior adviser Ernest Bower said agreeing to bilateral talks with Beijing will ruin the Philippines’ international reputation.
“I think the Philippines would lose respect to its partners in Asia and certainly the United States would be, I would say, extremely disappointed,” he said.
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“On the question of the South China Sea, I think the Philippines has made a commitment to its people and to the region to follow a principled approach.
“If the Philippines pursued a bilateral negotiation with China on the South China Sea that ignored its commitment, all the blood and the courage that has been put into the arbitral case, it would undercut that commitment to the [Association of Southeast Nations] and then the commitment to the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea,” Bower said.
When this happens, Bower opines it could open up some change of the status quo and the prevailing geo-political set up in the region and possibly a realignment of alliances.
China has violated the 1992 Code of Conduct of Parties that it signed with other claimants such as the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei not to militarize the disputed sea.
Bower also encouraged the incoming Duterte administration to convince China to respect the 1992 Code of Conduct of Parties and drop its “nine-dash line” claim.
“If the Philippines find a way forward with China that includes conditions on China’s commitment to forego the nine-dash line commitment, to assert and commit to a binding, legally binding code of conduct in the South China Sea, then if you have those conditions I think you should go ahead, sort things out and make things worth,” he said.
“But without those conditions, in my view, to make a bilateral agreement work cannot be effective,” Bower added.
Ernest Bower, chairman of the CSIS Southeast Asia Program, was among the reactors at a forum entitled “Asia-Pacific Perspectives in Implementing the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement: Insights on the Bilateral Security Dialogue” organized by the Albert del Rosario Institute.
The Philippines and United States have an alliance that is more than a century old and have existing military agreements, like the Mutual Defense Treaty, Visiting Forces Agreement and the EDCA.
President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, who begins his term as the country’s 16th president on June 30, has no clear policy yet on how his government will take on China’s incursions into the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone of the country.
But Duterte made it clear that if his government enters into bilateral talks, it doesn’t mean he will surrender those territories converted by China into artificial islands for military purposes.
He also pointed out that he will wait for the decision of the PCA at The Hague on the arbitral case filed by Manila against Beijing. He also backed multilateral talks being pushed by a growing number of ASEAN members and allies in the West led by the US.
Source: The Standard