Philippines: Duterte arrives in Beijing as South China Sea tensions grow

  • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has arrived in Beijing as he seeks to salvage his South China Sea policy towards China. He is also scheduled to hold meetings on 30 Aug 19 with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
  • Despite his huge domestic popularity and great affection for China, Duterte is under growing pressure to push back at its growing maritime assertiveness.
  • A boat-sinking incident in Jun 19 involving Filipino fishermen and a Chinese vessel within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone has also has enraged the public, and highlighted the Duterte’s close relations with Beijing.
  • Before his trip, the owner of the Chinese trawler that hit and sank the fishing boat apologised on 29 Aug 19 for the incident, but added that it was an “unintentional mistake”. They also promised to compensate the Filipino fishermen for the damage.
  • Duterte’s spokesman, who was travelling with him to Beijing, said the apology had been accepted.
  • Duterte’s trip comes amid a recent rise in tension on multiple fronts, with Chinese vessels challenging energy assets and sea boundaries of Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines, prompting warnings and rebukes by the United States, which accuses China of “coercive interference” and holding hostage USD2.5tr of oil and gas. China called that “warrantless criticism” with distorted facts.
  • A commentary on 28 Aug 19 carried by China’s Xinhua news agency said Xi and Duterte had “a firm faith and strong will to bridge their differences and push aside any distractions”.
  • Former Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the presence of five other Southeast Asian states and Japan as observers at The Hague arbitration showed there was significant support, and a “compelling rebuke to those who doubt that international justice does exist and will prevail”.
  • Philippine Supreme Court Judge Antonio Carpio has been advocating that Southeast Asian countries conduct freedom of navigation and overflight activities together joining those of the US, Japan, India and Britain.
  • But finding a common approach would be difficult, according to Jay Batongbacal, a South China Sea expert. He said Duterte had weakened the international position by allowing China to consolidate power “without interference or even a peep from us”.
  • Much depended on China’s actions, and whether Western powers were convinced that Duterte and other Southeast Asian leaders were prepared to confront Beijing.
  • “If China pushes, it may raise the possibility of us unifying around that ruling,” he told news channel ANC.
  • “If we don’t speak up, they will not be able to take a stronger position.”

External Link :