When President Xi Jinping left Manila after participating in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, he took home a message: the Philippines is strengthening security ties with its allies and getting more material support amid a contentious maritime dispute with China.
President Benigno Aquino III and some of his counterparts inked agreements to boost the Philippines’ defense capability as the long-simmering trouble over the South China Sea cast its shadow at the world leaders’ meeting. It is no secret that China has ridden roughshod over countries with competing claims by building permanent structures in the maritime area, treating it as its own.
The timing of this bevy of bilateral agreements couldn’t be better. They come soon after the country’s initial victory at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which ruled that it has jurisdiction over a case the government filed against China under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) . (China has refused to participate in this international legal process.)
Here are the significant agreements:
Of course, all these will not make the Philippines match China’s massive defense resources. Far from it.
What is clear is the support given by these various allies to a country that has stood up against China. The strong undertow of all these declarations and agreements is that China should play by the rule of law, an international norm that binds nations and prevents aggression.
China may have already gotten the message thus the series of diplomatic overtures. Xi Jinping attended the APEC meeting despite a legal wrangling with the host country.
The Chinese president recently traveled to Vietnam, a rare state visit, in the midst of the tension over South China Sea.
Then he and Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou held a historic meeting in Singapore, a first in more than 6 decades.
And, for the first time in 2 years, China and the Philippines held high-level talks when the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Manila during the prelude to the APEC summit.