New DFA chief Yasay: Why be afraid of China?

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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New DFA chief Yasay: Why be afraid of China?
Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr says the Philippines won't issue 'provocative' statements if it wins its case against China over the West Philippine Sea

MANILA, Philippines – “Why should we be afraid of China?”

The new secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Perfecto Yasay Jr, made this statement after his comments during the first Duterte Cabinet meeting fueled concerns the new administration is afraid of China. 

Asked if the Philippines is afraid of China, Yasay said in his first news conference on Friday, July 1: “I do not see any reason why we should be afraid of China. Why do you think the Philippines should be afraid of China?”

Yasay, during the Cabinet meeting on Thursday, June 30, said that “the bottom line question” is, what if the Philippines wins its historic case against China over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea)? 

On July 12, the Permanent Court of Arbitration is set to announce an arbitral tribunal’s ruling on Manila’s case against Beijing.

The Philippines wants the tribunal to declare China’s 9-dash line as baseless under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The 9-dash line is China’s demarcation and basis for its claim to the disputed waters.

During their Cabinet meeting on Thursday, Yasay referred to the Philippines’ possible victory on July 12: “What if, in the face of these circumstances, China will dig in and put us to a test? They will disallow again our fishermen from fishing in Scarborough Shoal.”

Yasay: ‘Nobody wants war’

Explaining the comment he made on Thursday, the Philippines’ new top diplomat said on Friday: “There is always a possibility that China might take more aggressive actions insofar as its reaction to the decision of the arbitral tribunal, especially if it would be in favor of the Philippines.”

“While we say it as a matter of possibility, there is also equally the possibility that China will not, because it has assured us of its relationship of goodwill with us. In fact without a decision of the UNCLOS court, it has allowed our fishermen to fish in there,” Yasay said.

“So I would much rather look at the possibilities of China and the Philippines trying to make sure that the implementation of the decision of the arbitral tribunal will be made as a result of our peaceful negotiations. And I’m hopeful that China would do this notwithstanding the fact that it has said that it will not respect the decision of the arbitral tribunal,” he explained.

He added that he hopes “China will respect” the upcoming decision, “especially as there is the equal possibility that the ruling will also be in its favor.”

Yasay said that “these are possibilities,” and stressed that “nobody wants conflict.”

The DFA secretary said: “Nobody wants war. The Philippines doesn’t want war. China doesn’t want war. The United States doesn’t want war. Japan doesn’t want war. The rest of the international community does not want war.”

“So I’d much rather focus on the probability that we will be resolving this dispute that would have been clarified by the arbitral tribunal’s decision through negotiations in a peaceful manner,” he said.

In any case, Yasay said the Philippines will not issue “provocative” statements if it wins, but will likewise not be “soft” in asserting its rights over the West Philippine Sea. 

While also refusing to surrender the Philippines’ claim over the West Philippine Sea, President Rodrigo Duterte has said he wants to boost the country’s ties with China. He said Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua, for one, has offered to build the Philippines a railway from Metro Manila to Clark, Pampanga, in two years.

Referring to this offer from China, Duterte recently asked businessmen: “Can you match the offer? Because if you cannot match the offer, I will accept the goodwill of China. My job is to see to it that the people are comfortable.” –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email