US naval operations in the South China Sea. Source: Flickr
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs’ think tank has said Manila and Beijing are concentrating on enhancing bilateral trade, investment and security.
The think tank’s security director Edgar Badajos said: “The Philippines is more interested enhancing bilateral talks with China and not the issue of findings of arbitral tribunal. We need to strengthen first our relations with China and we will touch the issue in a proper forum.”
He said Manila was “not abandoning claims” but now was not the right time to be pushing the issue.
Badajos called for accelerated talks with Beijing and avoiding anything that would spark a crisis.
In marked contrast, a US think tank has called on the Philippines to exploit the positive ruling by last July’s international tribunal in The Hague on the South China Sea.
Regional specialist at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Ernest Bower called on Manila to assert its claim over the South China Sea.
The advice will be unwelcome in China which resents what it regards as US interference in the region.
“I think if President [Rodrigo] Duterte is reading the polls, he would think carefully about the July 12 decision because if you look at what Filipino people think they are very strong in the arbitration case in the South China Sea,” Bower argued. He said 82 per cent of Filipinos wanted to see the international court ruling “followed up and followed through on”.
“It’s what Filipinos want to do and I think the Philippines showed a lot of courage. It had nothing to do with Philippine domestic politics, it had to do with the Philippines’ sovereignty and the rest of Asia and I think the world admired the Philippines’ courage and leadership to take that case and get the decision and I believe President Duterte would be wise to follow through on it,” Bower told the media.
Failure to act on the ruling could endanger security and sovereignty, the analyst said.
“I think the reason the Philippines took the arbitral case to the Hague is because they wanted a decision based on rule of law and they got a decision based on international rule of law about what the court thought about the South China Sea issue.
“To squander that opportunity to use such a high-level international legal standard would seem to put the country’s national security and its sovereignty at risk. Rolling the dice. I don’t think that’s the type of leader President Duterte is… He seems to be a very good reader of Philippine national opinion and I think, if I was him, I would heed my people on this question.”