MANILA, Philippines – China, one of the country’s biggest trading partners, warned the Philippines about “further damage” to their ties, days before the deadline for a historic pleading.
The Philippines shrugged this off. It vowed to file a “very convincing” pleading, called a memorial, on Sunday, March 30.
When asked about this, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters his country “will never accept nor participate in the international arbitration unilaterally initiated and pushed by the Philippines.”
China’s position, he said, “has a solid basis in international law.” Hong also said China “is unswerving in its resolve” to defend its territory.
“We hope that the Philippine side can be fully aware of the complexity and sensitivity of the South China Sea issue, return to the right track of resolving the dispute through negotiation and consultation as soon as possible, stop going any further down the wrong track so as to avoid further damage to bilateral relations,” the ministry spokesman said in a media briefing in China on Wednesday, March 26.
His statements came as observers also warned about a possible backlash from China.
In an interview with Rappler, former Interior Secretary Rafael Alunan III cited the possible sabotage of power distribution.
The State Grid Corporation of China, after all, owns 40% of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines.
“Because they control the distribution of power throughout the grid from Luzon to Mindanao, they also have the capability of sabotaging our economy by shutting off the power,” Alunan said. “I think the problem of the Aquino administration is how to undo and reduce the risk of sabotage.”
Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, for his part, said the Philippines is “fully committed” to file the memorial.
He described it as a “voluminous” document that will contest China’s claims over the West Philippine Sea.
The Philippines is required to submit the memorial through e-mails and courier deliveries, which should come with soft copies in storage devices such as USBs. (READ: PH readies ‘convincing evidence’ vs China)
Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said the memorial represents “the first major milestone ever since the Philippines launched its arbitration case against China.”
Given this, he said in a Thought Leaders piece for Rappler, “the Philippines must necessarily brace for impact against the potential backlash expected from China.” (READ: China documentary: What’s in store for PH, ASEAN?)
“Whether the Philippines wins or loses its case, China’s actual intentions and future actions have been questioned by its own publicity, and its actions speak much louder than its words,” Batongbacal said. – Rappler.com