A formation of the Nanhai Fleet of China's Navy on Saturday finished a three-day patrol of the Nansha islands in the South China Sea.
The Philippine presidential election on May 9, arguably the most contentious in decades, will see a new leader assume power because incumbent President Benigno Aquino III is barred from seeking re-election. Since Aquino is responsible for the souring of Beijing-Manila relations by endorsing Washington's "rebalancing to Asia-Pacific" policy over the past six years, the world is waiting to see what the new Philippine government's China policy will be.
Backed by the United States, the Aquino government has constantly sought to challenge China over the South China Sea issue, which, however, has proved to be a fool's errand.
To begin with, Manila's attempt to confront Beijing over its Huangyan Island has failed.
To maintain relations with the Philippines, however, China has exercised exemplary restraint in the island dispute. And the Philippines was expected to reciprocate the gesture for the sake of bilateral ties, which Aquino has long refused.
Encouraged by Washington, Manila sent military vessels to harass Chinese fishing boats and fishermen operating in waters off Huangyan Island in 2012, triggering a two-month confrontation with China's surveillance ships. This prompted Beijing to strengthen its presence on the island, leaving no scope for Manila to encroach upon the Chinese territory.
Thanks to the Aquino administration's accommodative policy, US troops, which the Philippine people fought strenuously to get rid of, are back in the country and will be stationed at five military bases.
Seeking Washington's protection might not be a good move for Manila－it could even be counter-productive－because Philippine soldiers, despite being equipped and trained according to US standards, have not been able to defeat the poorly-equipped anti-government forces.
By selling its Hamilton-class cutters and other advanced weapons to the Philippines, Washington is strengthening its military alliance with Manila.
But the Philippines should realize that it is just a piece on the US chessboard. The US may make use of the Philippines to meddle in the waters of the South China Sea, but it will never get involved if it leads to open confrontation between China and the Philippines. Should a serious conflict break out between Beijing and Manila over the South China Sea issue, which is about China's maritime sovereignty, Washington might prefer to watch from the sidelines because it does not concern the US' core interests.
Manila's provocations such as those around the Huangyan Island and the filing of an arbitration case in its dispute with China in the South China Sea, have a lot to do with the deteriorating bilateral relations, which have dealt a heavy blow to their trade and commercial cooperation.
As such, the incoming Philippine government should recalibrate its China policy.
But the prospects for that do not look encouraging, because the US is likely to take steps to ensure the new Philippine administration keeps serving its "rebalancing to Asia-Pacific" policy.
On the one hand, Washington is expected to ramp up its military aid to Manila in the next five years. On the other, in an attempt to hype up China's legal construction on its South China Sea islands, the US flew six of its military planes through the international airspace near Huangyan Island last month, injecting more uncertainties into China-Philippines ties.
The Aquino government has been trying to justify its hawkish stance on the South China Sea issue and urging the incoming leadership to follow the same policy. Worse, its anti-China propaganda has seriously affected domestic opinion, as more Philippine citizens now seem to distrust China.
Given these facts, the new Philippine administration should take appropriate measures to improve Beijing-Manila ties and seek peaceful solution to bilateral disputes without becoming an expendable part of Washington's Asia-Pacific maneuver.
By CHEN QINGHONG (China Daily)
The author is a researcher in Southeast Asian studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
China has sound reasons to reject South China Sea arbitration
The Philippines' unilateral attempt at arbitration over South China Sea disputes is not a real attempt to find a solution, but pursuit of selfish gains in the name of "rule of law."
The core of the Beijing-Manila South China Sea dispute is territorial issue, caused by the illegal occupation of some of China's islands and reefs since the 1970s by the Philippines, and the issue of maritime delimitation.
The arbitration violates the basic principles of international law and undermines the integrity and authority of the UN Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS).
The court has no right to adjudicate on the case as in 2006, China exercised its right under Article 298 of the UNCLOS and made a declaration excluding compulsory arbitration on disputes concerning maritime delimitation.
The UN Charter and international law advocate peaceful settlement of disputes through dialogue and negotiation. The UNCLOS respects the dispute settlement procedure chosen by the parties themselves.
Meanwhile, the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), signed by China and ASEAN countries, stipulates that disputes be resolved through consultation and negotiation by those directly concerned.
Therefore, China has sound reasons to reject compulsory arbitration. Whatever the result of the arbitration, it will not be binding on China.
The Philippines has distorted and abused the international arbitration mechanism, and reneged on its promise to solve disputes through negotiation.
It is also an outright lie to say that "all bilateral tools have been exhausted."
China and the Philippines have conducted several rounds of consultations on building trust, managing disputes and promoting maritime cooperation and, during these occasions, the Philippines has never talked with China about any of the appeals it mentioned in the arbitration case.
As Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pointed out, attempts to pressure China over an arbitration of maritime disputes is "either political arrogance or legal prejudice."
It doesn't hold water to say that filing for an arbitration is upholding international law, while not accepting arbitration violates international law. This is not viable in international practice .- Xinhua
China rebukes U.S. official's criticism on South China Sea arbitration
BEIJING, April 29 (Xinhua) -- A Chinese spokesperson on Friday rebuked U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken's remarks on the impending "arbitration" of the South China Sea issue, saying the United States is in no position to criticize China.
On Thursday, Blinken told a House of Representatives hearing in Washington that China "can't have it both ways," by being a party to the convention but rejecting its provisions, including "the binding nature of any arbitration decision." Full story
Backgrounder: "Geng Lu Book," encyclopedia on South China Sea
BEIJING, May 1 (Xinhua) -- The "Geng Lu Book," a historic book written between China's Ming Dynasty (AD 1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (AD 1644-1911), begins with a few sentences outlining an accurate maritime navigation route of ancient Chinese fishermen sailing from the Tan Men port of China's Hainan Province to the South China Sea.
The origin of the "Geng Lu Book" could date back to the early Ming Dynasty. The book records names of more than 100 locations in and important maritime information about the South China Sea, including sailing directions, time, distance, islands and submerged reefs, as well as sea current speeds and weather changes. Full story
Backgrounder: China has indisputable sovereignty over South China Sea islands
BEIJING, April 29 (Xinhua) -- The Philippines, distorting and partially applying the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), attempts to challenge China's sovereignty over the Nansha Islands.
In its unilaterally-initiated arbitration, the Philippines argues that low-tide elevations and submerged reefs are part of the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, a claim that totally runs contrary to historical fact, reality and international law. Full story
Historical documents record China’s sovereignty in South China Sea
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