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Xi’s lifetime rule may mean continued hardline stance in West PH Sea – analyst

Sofia Tomacruz

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Xi’s lifetime rule may mean continued hardline stance in West PH Sea – analyst
Aaron Jed Rabena says China could be considered 'compliant' with the 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling if there were peace and stability in the West Philippine Sea

MANILA, Philippines – Chinese President Xi Jinping’s move toward lifetime rule could see China maintaining a hardline stance in the West Philippine Sea, according to an analyst.

On Sunday, March 11, China’s parliament abolished presidential term limits, paving the way for Xi to rule for life.

“They would stick with what they’ve already done with their stance [in the West Philippine Sea],” Aaron Jed Rabena, an analyst and program convenor at foreign policy think tank Asia-Pacific Pathways to Progress, said in a recent Rappler Talk interview.

The Philippines brought China to court in 2014 when it filed a petition with the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). In 2016, the Philippines won its case as the PCA nullified China’s 9-dash line, which it uses to claim most of the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea.

However, China has disregarded the ruling and even continued its massive construction, including on Panganiban (Mischief) Reef off the coast of Palawan. (READ: Photos show China’s massive construction, runway on PH reef)

According to reports, Xi was personally responsible for measures that saw China building artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea.

2016 PHOTO. Structures seen in a satellite image of Mischief Reef on November 15, 2016, released December 13, 2016. Image courtesy of CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe

‘Strategic intent’

Rabena said China’s actions – particularly in Benham Rise, were borne out of strategic intentions in the area, which include military, economic, and scientific concerns.

On military concerns, Rabena argued that China wanted to familiarize itself with the underwater terrain in the area.

“They want it for geostrategic considerations because they want to familiarize themselves – some scholars have also said this – with the underwater terrain for possible military uses,” he said.

Rabena added that China also sees the Benham Rise area as important in terms of addressing its food security and energy security.

In addition to this, Rabena said that China’s activities in Benham Rise are also aligned with its desire to “project itself as a scientific and technological power” by 2049.

“They have a timeline for this. For instance, by 2020, they should already be one of the leading innovators in the world. By 2035, they should be a leading innovator. By 2049 – which is the centenary anniversary of the People’s Republic – they must be a global technological and scientific power,” the analyst said.


Asked what the Philippines should do so that China would comply with the PCA ruling, Rabena argued that “compliance” should not be taken literally for China.

He said China could be considered “compliant” if there were peace, stability, and restraint in the West Philippine Sea.

“For us, I think the goals are the following: we want peace, stability, restraint on the part of China, and access for our fishermen and our shipping vessels. So I think if China would not do actions that would go against these, then we can consider that compliance,” he explained.

China’s foreign ministry earlier maintained, however, that Beijing “has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters.” (CONTEXT: China never said West Philippine Sea is ‘disputed’) –

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers defense and foreign affairs. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz.