MANILA, Philippines – It is possible for President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to keep strong economic ties with China, while still being firm on asserting the Philippines’ rights in the West Philippine Sea, said retired Supreme Court senior justice Antonio Carpio.
“You can have good trade and economic relations with China but you have to be protective of your maritime rights, and that’s the position of Vietnam, and also the position of Malaysia and Indonesia,” said Carpio during Rappler’s Law of Duterte Land podcast.
Marcos, since winning the presidential elections, has changed his tune on the West Philippine Sea – from being passive like President Rodrigo Duterte to now declaring that he will “use” the Philippines’ historic arbitral win that invalidated China’s nine-dash-line claim.
Marcos has also appeared to desire restoring warm ties with the United States, mentioning in a brief press conference that he discussed with an American envoy ways to adjust the Visiting Forces Agreement to keep up with the times, whereas his predecessor Duterte threatened to abrogate the decades-long pact. The US, citing diplomatic immunity for heads of state, has also cleared the path for Marcos to travel there despite a standing contempt order.
Still, Marcos seems to be preserving the friendliness with China, saying at an event of the Association for Philippines-China Understanding last week that when it comes to counting on foreign allies to revitalize the economy after the pandemic, “our strongest partner has always been, in that regard, our close neighbor and our good friend, the People’s Republic of China.”
“We should continue economic and trade relations with China; Vietnam has a very strong trade and economic relations with China but it’s also very protective of its sovereign rights, of its exlusive economic zone, Vietnam sends its coast guard on a face-to-face confrontation with the Chinese Coast Gaurd in their EEZ [exclusive economic zone],” said Carpio.
It was during the government of Marcos’ father, the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, that the Philippines “normalized” its economic and diplomatic ties with China and Russia.
But for Carpio, it’s now time to “isolate China” from the rest of the world to strengthen our claim in the West Philippine Sea.
Carpio said Marcos can do that by entering the Philippines into agreements with Southeast Asian nations which have overlapping territories, whereas the countries agree in arbitration to demarcate borders.
“Vietnam and Malaysia invited us before in the time of [the late former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III], this is a low hanging fruit, this is a no brainer because under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), if you have overlapping maritime zones, you can agree to demarcate at a median line, hating kapatid (split evenly),” said Carpio.
Carpio said “everybody will agree to that.”
Carpio said the arbitration will result in a convention on the South China Sea that will mark the nations’ EEZs, and it will be supported by powerful nations like the US, Japan, and Australia because it will also provide for freedom of navigation.
“The rest of the world will subscribe to that convention, only China will be isolated here, so we can do that, we can do this without the participation of China, this is the world accepting our position in a document, which strengthens our rights as against China, this should be the direction of our foreign policy,” said Carpio.
Triumvirate with Russia
Carpio said Duterte tried to put the Philippines in a triumvirate with Russia and China, although “I don’t know if China and Russia even accept him as a co-equal.”
During the campaign, Marcos reiterated he is abandoning the Cold War attitude of “your enemy is my enemy and your friend is my friend” type of foreign policy.
Marcos eventually decided to stand by Ukraine during the campaign and go against Russian invasion.
Russian Ambassador Marat Pavlov paid a courtesy call on Marcos Monday, June 13, but according to the diplomat, Ukraine was discussed only “briefly.”
“We touched on the situation in Ukraine but very briefly and Mr. President-elect said a few words regarding the situation and maybe the representative of president-elect’s administration will explain…. As far as I understand, president-elect would like to continue his independent policy and he will cooperate with the Russian Federation,” said Pavlov.