“Its leaders say one thing and do another.”
After setting it aside for four years in the name of better ties with Beijing, President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday affirmed the Philippines’ legal victory over China before the United Nations General Assembly.
Speaking of the ruling of the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in favor of the Philippines in 2016, the President reaffirmed the country’s commitment in the South China Sea in accordance with the UN Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“The [PCA] award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon,” the President said in a recorded speech aired during the general debate of the 75th United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, Manila time.
Duterte said the Philippines rejects any attempts to undermine the historic 2016 ruling and assured the world that the country would adhere to the UN Charter and the 1982 Manila Declaration on the Peaceful Settlement of International Disputes.
The President also thanked nations—notably France, Germany and the United Kingdom--that supported the 2016 ruling by the PCA favoring the Philippines over China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea.
“We welcome the increasing number of states that have come in support of the award and what it stands for--the triumph of reason over rashness, of law over disorder, of amity over ambition,” he said.
In its landmark 2016 decision, the PCA said there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights over most of the South China Sea using its “nine-dash line” claim. The ruling covered marine features in the West Philippine Sea, including the hotly contested Scarborough Shoal, as part of the Philippine territorial waters.
But the Chinese government has repeatedly refused to recognize the tribunal’s ruling and, over the four years during which the President has tried to foster better ties with Beijing, has continued to reclaim islands in the disputed areas for military and research purposes.
In the meantime, the President has been hard pressed on the benefits of his pivot to China.
Much of the promised Chinese investments—save for a bridge and an irrigation project—have not materialized, with projects being delayed or shelved.
Investments in the online gambling industry, meanwhile, have benefited only real estate companies as the demand for housing for thousands of guest workers from China has driven rents through the roof. The so-called Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGOs), in fact, generate very little employment for locals, and have brought an influx of workers from China to cater to their Chinese clientele.
At the same time, China has behaved as if the South China Sea was its own private preserve, to the detriment of Filipino fishermen, who continue to be harassed by Chinese vessels.
In a separate speech during the 75th UN General Assembly, President Xi Jinping assured member states of China’s commitment to resolve disputes through dialogue and negotiation.
“We will never seek hegemony, expansion, or sphere of influence. We have no intention to fight either a Cold War or a hot war with any country,” said Xi.
But as its leaders say one thing and do another in the South China Sea, that message of amity is growing old—and increasingly unconvincing.
China has made many commitments to the international community and this country about its adherence to UNCLOS. It is high time it honored them.