Home Russia & China China China and Philippines agree to avoid force over South China Sea: Significance?

China and Philippines agree to avoid force over South China Sea: Significance?

Significance
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Jumel G. Estrañero |

Statements in international negotiation are challenging to decipher from within. On November 16, China and the Philippines have agreed to avoid force to resolve their differences over the South China Sea, according to a joint statement issued by China at the end of a visit to Manila, the Philippines by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

In context, China and the Philippines reaffirmed the importance of peace in the South China Sea and of freedom of navigation and overflight. Both have agreed: there should be no violence or threats of violence and the dispute should be resolved via talks between the “relevant sovereign countries”.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Department of National Defense shall look into this matter closely as its unfolding in international scale which will have a domestic implication.

Aside from President Donald Trump’s statement vis-à-vis ASEAN leaders, Chinese policy in the South China Sea is probably the most important determinant of the state of bilateral ties. On one hand, US-RP (Republic of Philippines) stressed the importance of peacefully resolving disputes in the South China Sea. On the other hand, since 2000 at least, the frequency and warmth of the leaders’ communiqués have tended to correlate – negatively – with the pace of China’s assertive advances in the disputed area.

Read more: South China Sea conflict: Far Off? No Pakistani position is important…

Consistent with this pattern, China has moderated its conduct in some important ways in recent months but at some point, making some noise which creates surprise positioning in the contested waters near the Spratlys Island (western Philippines) and even in Benham Rise (eastern Philippines). That makes this statement more interesting with contrasting words and actions to some extent.

Some adjustments to Chinese policy have, for the time being at least, brought Beijing into partial compliance with the 2016 ruling of the UNCLOS-mandated arbitral tribunal. Despite its surface-level bluster rejecting the process, the PRC has, for example, eased its harassment of Philippine fishers at Scarborough Shoal, allowing them access to the fishing grounds within the atoll’s lagoon.

They follow a different path which sometimes effective for their efficient cause; the efficacy of their own stratagem. For them, everything develops in conflicts.

One thing that I believe ever since is that: one conflict may affect relationships but it does not necessarily mean to trigger guns. The maritime dispute is one parcel of RP-PRC relationship. In fact, both sides believe that the maritime dispute is not the full sum of the China-Philippines relationship.

Thus, statements are testimonies of politics unfolding a strategy or policymaking. This will assure a smooth lubricant or if it’s for any consolation, a clearer picture of interest. Whether that interest is distributive or integrative. Whether a win-lose or win-win scenario will emerge next year, that is yet to witness by observers like me and you.

Read more: China Installs Weapons in South China Sea, Satellites Show

 For now, I can give few cents here. First, it is better to have no statement (at all) than a wrong statement. Silence sometimes is a good strategy but of course, risky in the long run especially in the field of politics where everyone has its own voices. Second, it is more preferably to see or hear a statement; a declaration thereof rather than no statement at all. And nonetheless, far more important than a wrong statement.

Reading Chinese strategic mindset not easy?

Silence sometimes is a good strategy but of course, risky in the long run especially in the field of politics where everyone has its own voices. Second, it is more preferably to see or hear a statement; a declaration thereof rather than no statement at all.

In a nutshell, China cannot be easily read by an ordinary thinker without getting its psyche before any statement that can be drawn. They follow a different path which sometimes effective for their efficient cause; the efficacy of their own stratagem. For them, everything develops in conflicts (i.e. contradictions).

Where there is a need for development, there undoubtedly will be new conflicts and difficulties. If preparation for addressing difficulties is not done in advance, then development is not possible. So at this point, the joint statement from both parties is a welcome development.

Read more: Chinese seizure of US drone, in South China Sea, worries US…

The challenge here is to maintain safety and security in observance of rule of law and freedom of navigation (FON). The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Department of National Defense (DND) shall look into this matter closely as its unfolding in international scale which will have a domestic implication. Meanwhile, in view of this positive momentum, I look forward to the announcement of the start of substantive negotiations on the Code of Conduct (COC) with China in early 2018 in Vietnam, where the two sides will meet at the earliest.   

Again, any joint statement should be carefully checked. You can’t change realities overnight in international negotiation.

Jumel Gabilan Estrañero is a defense analyst/researcher in the Philippine government while teaching political science, geopolitics, international negotiation, multilateral diplomacy, political economy & geography, international trade, practice and policies, and other social sciences. His specializes in defense & security, strategy & policy, South China Sea, Terrorism, global & regional politics, and special intelligence. The views expressed in this article are authors own and do not necessarily reflect the Global Village Space editorial policy. 

He is proud son of a soldier & government employee, artist, poet, lover of life and blessed to have his love, girlfriend, & prayer partner – Maria Kristina D. Siuagan. His articles have appeared in Asia Times, The Global Village Space, Asia Maritime Reviews, Military Defense & Intelligence, The Nation (Bangkok, Thailand), Southeast Asian Times, PressReader, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippine Star, Manila Times, and Malaya Business Insights.


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