Roque once slammed China as ‘aggressor’ in international law

Paterno Esmaquel II
Roque once slammed China as ‘aggressor’ in international law
(UPDATED) Now Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque asserts 'good faith' on the part of China as Malacañang backs joint exploration in the West Philippine Sea

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – While he now justifies joint exploration with China in the West Philippine Sea, and stresses “good faith” on the part of Beijing, it was not always this way for international law expert Harry Roque. 

In fact, before becoming a mouthpiece of President Rodrigo Duterte, Roque even once slammed China as an “aggressor.”

“China is an aggressor under international law,” Roque said in an article posted on his website,, on July 5, 2015.

“China has resorted to unlawful use of force to advance its claims to vast amount of waters in the West Philippine Sea and has shunned a peaceful means to settle its territorial dispute with the Philippines,” Roque said in a speech at Harvard Law School. 

He also said: “China’s resort to the use of force in lieu of peaceful arbitration proves that it is today the same hegemonic and colonial state that Mao and the rest of China rejected in their People’s Revolution.”

Roque has since made a turnaround, as Duterte vows friendlier ties with China, and as Roque is believed to be eyeing a Senate seat in 2019.

In response to this story, Roque said in a statement on Sunday: “I confirm that in my lecture at Harvard in 2015, I called China as an aggressor. I delivered that lecture when China forcibly evicted us from Scarborough Shoal and prior to the [Hague] arbitration. At that time, it was important to underscore that a peaceful resolution of the issue must be through the rule of law because we certainly – as is the case until now – no match to China’s military might.”

Roque added that now, however, there is a “fundamental change in circumstance” because the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines in 2016. He said this story “was written without consideration of the proper context” by which he called China an “aggressor.”

“Today, we have an arbitral decision squarely in our favor saying that China has no basis to claim any territory on the basis of historic waters and that the area where China’s artificial islands are built form part of our exclusive economic zone (EEZ). That is why I have been supportive of the Duterte administration’s foreign policy,” Roque said.

While asserting that China’s artificial islands are within the Philippines’ EEZ, however, Roque also previously said the Philippines might someday thank China for its controversial island-building. He drew flak online for that remark. (READ: Malacañang on China buildup on PH reef: What do you want us to do?)

The presidential spokesman on Sunday also said that since there is “a decision that is solidly behind us which under international law is executory and binding on both China and the Philippines, we can move forward on matters that are not controversial such as trade, investment, and tourism.”

“Matters which are controversial, such as the issue of ownership over the land territory not subject to the arbitration, we can proceed through bilateral talks,” he added.

But the Duterte administration has been criticized for its foreign policy direction after the arbitral tribunal’s ruling. China has also refused to recognize the landmark decision. (READ: How to enforce Hague ruling? PH lead counsel explains)

Rappler compiled Roque’s contradicting statements, before and after he became Duterte’s spokesman, in this in-depth piece.

Roque told Rappler in February: “I speak for the President now. In this capacity, I have no personal opinions.” –

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Paterno Esmaquel II

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