MANILA, Philippines – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte made good on his promise to raise the Hague ruling before Chinese President Xi Jinping, but ended up with the same results as before.
In response to Duterte, the Chinese leader merely reiterated China's refusal to recognize the arbitral ruling which struck down their claim to the West Philippine Sea.
"He (President Duterte) said that the arbitral award is final, binding and not subject to appeal. In response, President Xi reiterated his government’s position of not recognizing the arbitral ruling as well as not budging from its position," said Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo on Friday, August 30, in a statement.
Panelo was informing the public of what transpired during the Duterte-Xi bilateral meeting the night before, Thursday, August 29, at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing.
What's more, the two presidents "agreed that while their variant positions will have to remain," they should not derail the "amity" between their two countries, said the spokesman. (READ: LIST: 6 agreements signed during Duterte-Xi August 29 meeting)
The arbitral ruling, handed down by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in July 2016, invalidated the 9-dash line China uses to claim virtually the entire South China Sea – a major victory for the Philippines and other smaller claimant states.
Yet China has refused to recognize the ruling, dismissing it as “nothing more than a piece of waste paper.”
The June Recto Bank boat sinking incident, considered the most heated incident in the West Philippine Sea since the 2012 Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) standoff, also came up.
Duterte, said Panelo, "expressed appreciation of China’s readiness to provide compensation to our fishermen who almost lost their lives."
Right before Duterte took off for Beijing, the Chinese government relayed the apology of the owner of the boat that had hit Filipino vessel F/B Gem-Ver and abandoned its crew to the high seas. Malacañang promptly accepted the apology.
"Both leaders agreed to work together, on the basis of mutual trust and good faith, to manage the South China Sea issue, and to continue to dialogue peacefully in resolving the conflict," said Panelo.
As in previous meetings, the Duterte and Xi committed to observe self-restraint and respect for freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea. (READ: When Duterte meets with Xi: What West PH Sea deals were reached in past talks?)
Joint exploration, sea code
As expected, the two discussed joint exploration for oil and gas in the West Philippine Sea.
Xi instructed that groups created by the memorandum of understanding signed during his Manila visit in November 2018 begin their work.
"President Xi for his part said that the steering committee created for that purpose should prepare a substantive program on the matter," said Panelo.
The joint steering committee, according to the MOU, is composed of foreign ministry and energy ministry officials from the Philippines and China. They are to create a framework and work with companies interested in undertaking oil and gas exploration, who are to comprise separate entrepreneurial working groups.
Duterte also emphasized the need for a South China Sea code of conduct, currently being finalized by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China, to prevent confrontations and flashpoints in the critical water body.
He and Xi agreed that the code should be crafted "within the last remaining years" of Duterte's term, which ends in 2022. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had previously set 2021 as the deadline for the code.
Maritime law experts did not expect much from Duterte's plan to raise the arbitral ruling with Xi. Critics like Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio had said Duterte must do more than mention the ruling.
Carpio suggested that to change China's behavior in the West Philippine Sea, the Philippine leader must rally international support for the ruling and implement security measures by, for example, deploying more Coast Guard ships to patrol the sea. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.