On Monday, the Philippine government declared that war is not an option in resolving South China Sea dispute with China. This statement followed the recent reports that China is almost finishing the transformation of reefs into artificial islands in the disputed areas. The reports said these artificial islands upon their completion will have naval and air facilities, runways and helipads. Another report published photographs showing radar domes, lighthouses, hangars spanning tens of thousands of squares of meters.
China’s activities in the disputed areas as drawn condemnation from the US government which called on the country to respect the 2016 decision of Permanent Court of Arbitration. The Philippine’s statement comes unsurprisingly because President Rodrigo had already stated his position on the matter when he visited China after becoming the president
While the involved nations work to resolve the dispute, many analysts have identified the three major issues as obstacles for a permanent resolution. First, China’s claim to most of the South China Sea. Second, the occupation and transformation of ocean feature into artificial islands in disputed areas. Lastly, the competing views on how to resolve the dispute have continuously hindered the attainment of a permanent resolution.
Philippines on China military build-up: No war option
Last Monday, the Philippine government issued a statement reiterating its position that war is not an option in resolving its South China Sea dispute with China. The government statement follows recent reports that China is close to finishing its artificial islands in the area.
The President Rodrigo’s office said the government seeks to resolve the dispute peacefully and works under the principle of good faith that China will not reclaim new islands in the disputed area. The Monday’s statement seems to reiterate what has already been President Rodrigo’s position since he came into power. Unlike his predecessor, President Rodrigo has chosen to pursue less aggressive and anti-adversary relationship with China, the choice that has surprised many who had supported Philippine’s decision to bring China before arbitration court.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer’s report showed radar domes, lighthouses, hangars in the facilities that span tens of thousands of square meters. One of the occupied area, the Mischief Reef, is within Philippine’s exclusive economic zone, at least according to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. If China’s expansion goes unchallenged, the report said the country could lose more than 40 percent of its fishing grounds and 80 percent of its economic exclusive zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea.
Responding the new reports, Paolo Aquino, an opposition senator, called on the Rodrigo government to tell the public what it gave up to China. His call on the public to pressure President Rodrigo’s government regarding the matter is unlikely to change President’s Rodrigo who has already declared to not impose anything on China.
The South China Sea dispute has existed for centuries. All the disputant nations have repeatedly asserted their sovereignty rights to the territory. Of the most contentious issue is China’s vague and consistent claim to the whole of the territory falling within its nine-dash line. According to maps published by China’s authority, the nine-dash line seems to skirt the coasts of other nations.
Because of China’s long and consistent position that its sovereign rights to the whole of South China Sea are ‘irrefutable’, Philippine brought the dispute before The Hague Permanent Court of Arbitration which in 2016 decided in favor of the Philippine government.
However, since he came to power, President Rodrigo Duterte has taken a surprising direction and position on the matter. While China has continued its expansion in the territory regardless of the global community’s continuous pressure to respect the 2016 Court’s decision, President Rodrigo has repeatedly said to not pressure China, rather he would establish and pursue a friendly relation with Beijing. During his visit in China after becoming president, Duterte also declared he has ‘realigned’ himself with China’s ‘ideological flow’.
Reading the trajectory of the dispute, one would identify the three major issues at the heart of the conflict. First, is the occupation and transformation of the features in the South China Sea. All the disputant nations have overlapping claims to these features. And lately, China has engaged in massive transformation of these features into artificial islands, a move that seriously been condemned by the international community.
The China’s nine-dash line is another challenging issue in the dispute. The line, as it is shown in the map, pretty much skirts the coasts of other nations, causing other nations to aggressively dispute the China’s official map. Of the most challenging issue is the methodology of resolving the dispute. While numerous scholars have published their thoughts on how to resolve the dispute the disputants seem to have competing views, and no one is likely to give up its position on how to resolve the dispute. As we have entered 2018, the world remains to watch how will the Southeast Asia nations resolve their conflict.
Source: Aljazeera News, 5 February, 2018. Photo credit to The Wall Street Journal.