MANILA, Philippines – The Chinese Foreign Ministry flatly denied a report that China offered the Philippines incentives to stop it from filing its memorial, or written pleading, in its historic case over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
In a media briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang denounced reports on these incentives as “sheer fabrication.”
“No one can shake the Chinese government’s resolve of safeguarding national territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests. We will never trade away our sovereignty and territory,” Qin said Friday, February 28.
He made this statement after Rappler on Wednesday, February 26, reported that China proposed the mutual withdrawal of ships from the disputed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in exchange for the Philippines not submitting its memorial by March 30.
Roilo Golez, a former national security adviser, said a back channel in the territorial dispute tipped him off on the proposed “carrot” from China. Two insiders in government also confirmed this to Rappler.
The Chinese Embassy in the Philippines earlier had “no information to offer” about this.
On Friday, Qin explained: “With reference to the Philippines’ attempt of initiating arbitration proceeding against China regarding South China Sea dispute, China is firmly opposed to and will by no means accept that. This clear-cut position will not change.”
‘Reject China’s incentives’
China’s reported offer drew the ire of Filipinos, one of the countries they distrust the most according to pollster Social Weather Stations.
On Monday, March 3, party-list group Akbayan carried placards that said, “Reject China’s incentives,” in a protest in front of the Chinese consulate in Makati City.
The group slammed China for the water cannon incident that triggered a recent protest from the Philippine government.
“The Filipino people will not fall for this crude ‘good cop, bad cop’ antic being employed by China,” Akbayan Rep Walden Bello said in a statement.
Philippine senators, for their part, cautioned the government about China’s offer.
“Will it move us forward? Is it mutually beneficial to China, the Philippines, and other claimant countries? If we are to avoid a confrontation, we must come up with a win-win situation. Our foreign policy must be clear. It’s not about withdrawing ships. This is not Divisoria. This is not haggling or bartering. Our long-term national interest must be clear,” Sen Gregorio Honasan II said.
The Philippine government hopes to win the case by 2015.
Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza said it’s a “doubly difficult” task for the Philippines, especially because China has rejected the arbitral proceedings.
To help PH ‘save face’
“No. Don’t take that carrot,” reader Alexis Lao said in Rappler’s comments section.
Lao recalled that China did the same thing to the Philippines during the term of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. During her administration, Arroyo entered into deal with China to jointly explore the South China Sea, a move seen as giving up the Philippines’ rights over its marine resources.
China then viewed the Arroyo administration as “more receptive” compared to the “provocative” leadership of President Benigno Aquino III, according to the International Crisis Group.
Because of this, Lao said the Philippines “should first establish” the West Philippine Sea “as rightfully ours.” Only then can the Philippines “invite China to invest in the exploration since they have the money.”
For Arturo Sarga, another reader, a mutual withdrawal of ships from Panatag “seems fine if only to ease the tension and avoid accidental firings that can lead to a shooting war.” He said China’s offer “is a safe saving face for both China and the Philippines.”
“Going to the international court? We will only deplete public funds for hiring… lawyers for [an] indefinite time,” he said.
Joseph Zamora questioned the mere idea that the Cabinet discussed this. “There’s nothing to think about,” he said. “Why do we have to consider their offer?” – with a report from George Moya/Rappler.com