Posts Tagged ‘South China Sea’

Chinese envoy: Philippines not our province

July 17, 2018
Chinese envoy: Philippines not our province, not now, not ever

Audrey Morallo ( – July 17, 2018 – 5:24pm

MANILA, Philippines —  The Philippines has never been and would never be a province of China, the Chinese ambassador to the Philippines said on Tuesday, as President Rodrigo Duterte stressed that Beijing did not ask Manila to cede even “one square” of its territory in exchange for its help.

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Xiao Jinhua said that the recent posting of tarpaulins introducing the country as a province of China to visitors was a “vicious attack” on the two countries’ relations and Duterte’s so-called independent foreign policy.

Chinese envoy to the Philippines Xiao Jinhua, right, said that the Philippines was not and would not be a province of China.

Presidential Photo/Simeon Celi Jr., File


“It has never been any part of China. As a matter of fact you know,” Xiao told reporters when asked about his comment on the posting of the banners

“No, not now, not ever,” the Chinese envoy said.

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Tarpaulins bearing the words, “Welcome to the Philippines, province of China” were seen hanging from several footbridges in Metro Manila on Thursday last week, the second anniversary of the country’s victory over Beijing in its arbitration case filed before a Hague-based tribunal.

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The banners had the Chinese flag and Chinese characters.

This also came when Duterte himself “joked” before an audience which included the Chinese envoy that the country could become a province of its northern powerful neighbor.

“He (Xi Jinping) is a man of honor. They can even make us ‘Philippines, province of China,’ we will even avail of services for free,” Duterte said. “If China were a woman, I’d woo her.”


Although they were “bad,” the banners were not offensive to China, Xiao clarified.

He also stressed that Chinese aid and loans to the Philippines would not snare Manila in its “debt trap” as these were based on “mutual agreement.”

The Chinese envoy said that the Philippines would not be indebted to Beijing because of its aid, adding that the government’s economic team is “smart enough.”

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“That is simply the decision by your government to use the soft loans and the infrastructure project will be undertaken by a Chinese company through limited bidding process. There is no mention or no avenue for ownership, your government will own all those projects. So there will be no question of putting yourself in debt,” Xiao said.

The chief executive meanwhile stressed that his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, did not ask for the Philippines to surrender its territorial claims in exchange for China’s help.

He emphasized that both sides would discuss the 2016 arbitral award which invalidated much of China’s expansive claim to the South China Sea “in some other time.”

“Allow China, we will allow them the sufficient period to sort out things. China will be fair, the equity will be distributed,” the president said.



The huge build-up of Chinese military on some seven militarized island-bases near the Philippines poses a kind of “Sword of Damocles” over every action the Philippine government takes. That unspoken coercion makes the Philippines the “beholden” junior partner to China…. That is why the Chinese bases are there and they seem to be having the impact the Chinese expected them to have, especially over Vietnam and the The Philippines. This is the devious way China does “business.”

Peace and Freedom



See also:

China won’t allow Philippines to fall into a ‘debt trap’: envoy




Taiwan’s Apache fleet goes into service amid China tensions

July 17, 2018

Taiwan on Tuesday put into service its fleet of US-made Apache attack helicopters, upgrading its defences against a growing military threat from China.

The US sold 30 Apache AH-64E — also known as the “tank killer” — to Taiwan as part of a $6.5 billion arms deal announced in 2008 that angered Beijing.

© AFP | Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen waves during a ceremony to commission new US-made Apache AH-64E attack helicopters at an military base in Taoyuan

China sees the self-ruled island as part of its own territory to be reunified, by force if necessary, and opposes any weapons sales to Taiwan.

Washington is the biggest deterrent against any Chinese invasion. Although it does not have official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, it is required to supply defensive weapons under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.

The Taiwanese military was the first force outside the US to use the latest variant of Boeing’s Apache AH-64, which was delivered to the island between November 2013 and October 2014.

Boeing describes it as “the world’s most advanced multi-role combat helicopter” and it has been sold to countries including Japan and the UK.

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President Tsai Ing-wen hailed the commissioning of the fleet as “a very strong line of defence” at a ceremony Tuesday at a military base in the northwestern city of Taoyuan.

“The excellent combat skills we see today are the result of such difficult training,” Tsai said, adding 84 weeks of flight training are required to qualify as an Apache pilot.

The Apaches were joined by other aircraft in performing flybys and in-air manoeuvres.

But only 29 were commissioned as one was damaged when it crash-landed on a building during training in April 2014.

Taiwan’s military also introduced Asia’s first female Apache AH-64E pilot. Yang Yun-hsuan, an army major, said she was following in the footsteps of her father, who was also a pilot.

China has stepped up diplomatic and military pressure on Taiwan since the Beijing-sceptic Tsai took office two years ago, including staging a series of military exercises near the island.

Beijing is also incensed by recent warming moves between Washington and Taipei. These include approval by the US State Department of a preliminary licence needed to sell submarine technology to the island.


Philippines Must Do More In South China Sea To Support International law

July 17, 2018

Despite the bogey of war that President Duterte has raised every time China’s transgressions in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea (WPS) is brought up, up to 8 out of 10 Filipinos still believe the government should enforce the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague that favored the country’s claims over disputed territories in the area.

In two surveys conducted just weeks before the second anniversary of the Court’s decision, 73 and 80 percent of respondents asked by Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations, respectively, said Mr. Duterte should assert Philippine sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea.


 / 05:08 AM July 17, 2018

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Citing loans and investments from China, the President has set aside the ruling, while his Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano has declined to show the “50 to 100” protests that he claimed the Philippines has lodged against its northern neighbor. Malacañang’s policy of appeasement appears only to have emboldened China to step up its militarization efforts in the disputed waters, where it has installed military-grade runways, hangars and retractable roofs for anticruise missiles on seized islands. It has also harassed Filipino fishermen in the country’s exclusive economic zone, destroyed reefs and corals, harvested marine resources, and even prevented the Philippine military from erecting shelter from the weather and bringing in supplies for soldiers stationed on Philippine-held shoals.

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By setting aside the ruling, the country also stands to lose 130 billion barrels of oil, gas and mineral deposits in the WPS, as well as territories three times the size of Quezon City, warned Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio. Already, “China has been taking half of the annual fish catch in the South China Sea to feed 1.4 billion people,” the magistrate added.

Based on international law, the Philippines’ failure to protest encroachment on its territory is as good as giving it up, Carpio said, adding that the government should file a protest with the United Nations or China itself.

Carpio also debunks the administration’s claim that war is the only other alternative to appeasement, citing the prohibition on war in the Philippine Constitution and the UN Charter.

Instead of playing “willing victim and abettor” to China’s aggressive moves in the WPS, as former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario put it, Carpio has suggested alternative approaches, among them arbitration which, he said, the UN Charter expressly recognizes as a peaceful means of settling disputes. Arbitration is also part and parcel of diplomacy, which the government has repeatedly invoked as the preferred response to China’s willful disregard of the ruling.

Gaining the support of the community of nations is foremost, added Del Rosario, “whether through multilateralism at the UN, or with Asean, or through our bilateral engagements with other states, or an all-out effort in pursuing all of the aforementioned.”

But with the Duterte administration’s defeatist stance over the issue, Carpio said the task of “keeping alive the [arbitral] Award within our country” has fallen on every Filipino … “[who] has a civic duty to preserve and protect the Award so that the next administration can enforce [it].”

It is also every Filipino’s duty, Carpio said, to inform the other peoples of the world “that China’s compliance with the Award is essential to the survival of Unclos as the governing law for the oceans and seas of our planet.” China’s noncompliance would mean the “collapse of the rule of law in the oceans and seas,” he warned. “What will prevail will be the rule of the naval canon.”

The administration’s passive approach to China appears to have roused dissenters to up their game. Last week, huge tarpaulins hailing the Philippines as a province of China were seen hanging from several footbridges in prominent streets in Metro Manila, and even near the airport. For maritime affairs expert Jay Batongbacal, the mocking tarpaulins mark “a turn in the intensity” of protests against Malacañang’s China policy. “It’s when the people begin to be like that—jovial and jok[ing] about the administration—that signals a loss of support and respect,” he added.

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That notion sounds more than plausible, given the overwhelming number of Filipinos who think this administration hasn’t done enough to defend the country’s rights against its bullying neighbor. But will Malacañang even deign to take heed of that ominous public sentiment?

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Taiwanese academic: US likely to withdrawal from Taiwan’s immediate surroundings to placate China

July 17, 2018

US will withdraw from Taiwan’s immediate surroundings, accommodate China according to Kung Chia-cheng

Donald Trump waving, July 15. (By Associated Press)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Former head of the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (國家中山科學研究院), Kung Chia-cheng (龔家政) said that the U.S. will withdraw from the first island chain and Taiwan should begin to plan for a new strategic context at a conference in Taipei on July 15.

Kung said that the U.S.’s pull-back from Taiwan’s immediate surroundings would weaken its strategic positioning and diminish Taiwan’s international importance during the “New Cross-strait Relationship” conference put on by the Democratic Pacific Union (民主太平洋聯盟) in Taipei.

The “first island chain” is a strategic demarcation from Japan’s southern tip, moving southward between Taiwan’s east coast and the Philippines’s west coast, and follows the southern boundary of the South China Sea around to Vietnam.

First and Second island chains. (image courtesy of U.S. Department of Defense)

The first island chain is followed by two more island chains which are progressively further east to Taiwan. The island chain concept is used by the Chinese military and U.S. military, as well as other regional actors.

Kung said that the decision by the U.S. to suspend its joint military exercises with South Korea, represents the U.S.’s military withdrawal from the first island chain to the second island chain, reported the China Times.

South Korea and the U.S. agreed to postpone scheduled war games for August 2018, as a sign of goodwill towards North Korea as talks about denuclearization of the Korean peninsula continue. It is unclear if a one-off postponement of military training equates to wholesale forfeiture of the U.S.’s strategic foothold in east Asia.

Kung speculates that China President Xi Jinping (習近平) believes the Pacific Ocean is big enough for both China and the U.S. and America will withdraw its presence from the first island chain as a sign of goodwill and to avoid conflict.

Since President Obama’s “pivot to Asia” speech in Canberra, Australia on 17 November 2011, the U.S. military has been fully committed to maintaining its current strategic footprint in the region through their public communication.

Kung said that the recent passage by two U.S. warships through the Taiwan Strait was not as meaningful as in previous times. For Kung, the move was to pacify U.S. Congress, rather than signal to China and the broader region of the U.S.’s intent to continue its presence in the Asia Pacific.

Pacific Fleet spokesman Captain Charlie Brown said the passage was routine. “U.S. Navy Ships transit between the South China Sea and the East China Sea via the Taiwan Strait,” he said, “and have done so for many years” to CNN.

Due to China’s growing military strength, Kung believes that Taiwan cannot rely on a security blanket provided by U.S. aircraft carriers, as it had done so during the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis.

Kung said that the next steps depend on two factors. First, the political situation in Taiwan and potential moves towards Taiwan independence, of which China views as a precursor to remove diplomatic resolutions. Second, how the U.S. government’s Taiwan Travel Act and the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is interpreted by China and its so-called “one China” principle.

Philippines denies inaction on South China Sea

July 17, 2018
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‘We file protests but we do it quietly’

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang on Monday said it has been asserting the Philippines’ claims in the South China Sea after a nationwide poll suggested that four out of five Filipinos reject the government’s perceived inaction on the issue.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly declared that he would not give up the country’s territory.

“The government of President Duterte is not guilty of inaction,” Roque told radio station dzRH.

( – July 16, 2018 – 4:04pm

“Whenever China does something that violates our sovereignty, we file protests but we do it quietly,” he added.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano has said in the past the the Philippines has filed “50-100” protests with China, a claim that administration critics like Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon doubt.

Roque stressed that the president would not quarrel with China over the dispute because it would not benefit ties between Manila and Beijing.

“He (Duterte) believes we can set aside temporarily the things that cannot be resolved immediately. We can pursue those that can be pursued like the economy,” he added.

A Social Weather Stations survey conducted from June 27 to 30 found 81 percent of Filipinos believing that the government should not “leave China alone with its infrastructures and military presence” in Philippine-claimed areas in the South China Sea.

RELATED: Philippines now ‘willing victim’ in South China Sea dispute, Del Rosario laments

Eight out of ten Filipinos believe it is right for the government to strengthen the military capability of the Philippines, SWS said.

About seven out of ten or 74 percent of respondents think it is right for the government to bring the issue to international organizations while 73 percent back “direct, bilateral negotiations between the Philippines and China.”

Meanwhile, 68 percent of Filipinos believe the government should ask other countries to mediate the issue.

Roque said all Filipinos, not just 81 percent of them, should oppose inaction on the maritime dispute.

“It should be 100 percent because there is no government inaction…Five out of five Filipinos should protest inaction because it is not true that President Duterte is not doing anything,” the presidential spokesman said.

RELATED: Chinese took Filipino fishers’ catch as ‘barter exchange,’ Duterte explains

“We are just not making noise but we have an immediate action if we think China is violating our sovereignty and sovereign rights,” he added.

Roque said Duterte, who has been accused of being too soft on China, is continuously fighting for the interests of the Philippines.

Critics have accused Duterte of abandoning the Philippines’ maritime claims in the South China Sea in exchange for military and economic assistance from China

Duterte has denied this and has given assurance that he would discuss the South China Sea row with Chinese officials within his term. The president has also admitted that the Philippines would be courting “trouble” if it insists on its maritime claims, a claim that critics say paint war as the country’s only option.  — Alexis Romero

RELATED: With mere words, Duterte can lose to China rights Philippines won in arbitral ruling




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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law. Vietnam has been unable to develop its own undersea oil due to China’s aggressive behavior.

Philippines: Filipinos do not want to live in a Chinese province any longer

July 16, 2018

The proliferation of “Philippines is a province of China” banners around Metro Manila is an indictment of President Rodrigo Duterte’s total embrace of China.

What he has to say on the issue must be clear in his coming State of the Nation Address before a joint session of Congress on July 23.A recent survey by Pulse Asia showed that 73 percent of Filipinos polled want the government to assert its sovereign right in the resource-rich South China Sea particularly the country’s entitlements in the West Philippine Sea which is steadily being taken over by China.

Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio said a wide swath of Philippine territorial waters has already been usurped by the Chinese navy. Some 150-million barrels of oil comparable to the output of Kuwait and Iraq are possibly under the SCS seabed.

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Banners declaring the Philippines a province of China appeared in various parts of Metro Manila on July 12. Nobody has claimed responsibility for the apparent prank.(Contributed photo)

This, plus methane gas and the abundant fish supply to feed China’s 1.5-billion population. Oil and methane gas, on the other hand, would advance Beijing’s military agenda in the region. This is the reason why the Chinese made artificial islands out of the shoals, reefs and protruding rocks and building military bases on them.

China is not able to retake Taiwan which it considers a renegade province because the United States strengthened Taiwan’s military arsenal, particularly its air force. Beijing then opted for the Philippines because, as one observer said, “it is a willing victim.

”While the country cannot win a war with China and its mighty People’s Liberation Army, we should at least invoke The Hague arbitration court ruling rejecting China’s nine-dash-line and its sweeping claim to nearly the entire South China Sea.

But the Duterte administration kept its silence pursuant to its pacifist approach to the problem.The tarpaulin streamers were hoisted on the second year anniversary of The Hague’s ruling in favor of the Philippines. Professor Jay Batongbacal, a political analyst said the Duterte administration wasted a landmark international court decision by allowing China to continue its militarization of the disputed South China Sea.

While the Duterte administration appears ambivalent about the issue, other claimants to parts of the South China Sea like Vietnam, Taipei and Malaysia in fact use The Hague ruling in arguing their case against China.

Former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, speaking on “On the Record” news forum, said the government’s weak-kneed response to China’s calibrated seizure of Philippine territorial waters in the West Philippine Sea is what gave rise to the proliferation of “Welcome to the Philippines, a province of China” banners in Metro Manila.

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said the streamers were put up by people who hate the President. We have to agree with Roque on this one.

Because the streamers are widespread all over Metro Manila, then Roque validated that there are many in the metropolis who hate Duterte.

To prevent any untoward or violent incident during Duterte’s third Sona, the Philippine National Police will deploy 6,000 men along the road leading to and around the Batasan Pambansa complex in Quezon City.

The usual suspects of protesters like Kilusang Mayo Uno, leftist militants, labor and transport groups are expected to stage demonstrations in the vicinity of the Sona venue. These groups for sure will raise the issue of “endo” or contractualization and the government to fully address this issue. Rising prices of oil, transportation fare, inept management of the Metro Rail Transit which adds to commuter woes in getting to work on time are among the issues.

There are new ones to be raised even as the President is expected to enumerate glowing achievements of his two-year old administration. Most recently, tons of rotting rice were discovered in a warehouse in Tacloban, Leyte. Then there is the P5.9-million missing from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office funds, according to the Commission on Audit.

Where did the money go?

Do Filipinos want to be a province of China, or a state of America? The answer to this query if a poll is conducted by the SWS or Pulse Asia should be interesting.


South China Sea: China’s Blocking of the Philippines Likely Costing Filipinos Billions in Unclaimed Oil, Sea Resources

July 16, 2018
China’s continued blocking of Reed Bank drilling could cost Philippine development — expert
Patricia Lourdes Viray ( – July 16, 2018 – 9:53am

MANILA, Philippines — China’s continued blocking of oil and gas drilling on Reed Bank in the West Philippine Sea may bring economic repercussions for the Philippines, a maritime law expert warned.

In 2015, the Department of Energy suspended all drilling and exploration works in the West Philippine Sea due to a territorial dispute with China.

The Reed Bank, also called Recto Bank, is being considered as a possible replacement to the nation’s main source of natural gas, the Malampaya field, which will run out in less than a decade.

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Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, warned that the Philippine’s plans for economic development will be affected if the Malampaya field runs out of oil and gas.

RELATED: 81% of Pinoys reject government inaction on SCS

The country is seen to lose 30 percent of its energy requirements by 2025 if this happens.

“Luzon will be the most affected. But not only that, there will also be financial effects, the side effects will be big because when you do not have power, your industry will just stop,” Batongbacal said on Vice President Leni Robredo’s radio show on Sunday.

The maritime expert added that a substitute for Malampaya would be more expensive. At least 10 years of lead time would be needed in pursuing natural gas and petroleum energy projects.

Reed Bank, which reportedly has about 21 percent more gas than the reserves in Malampaya, is one of the two areas being eyed as sites of joint exploration between the Philippines and China.

The area is within the country’s exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea but it is also being claimed by China.

Last February, the Philippines and China agreed to form a panel that would draft a framework on joint oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano earlier said that the Philippines wants a deal as good as the one on the Malampaya project, which is 65 km off Palawan.

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“We desire a contract that’s as good or better than Malampaya… If we can have a deal that is as advantageous as Malampaya or better, what’s the difference if we are dealing with China?” Cayetano said.

The Chinese government had assured the Philippines that joint development would not affect the legal position of both countries on the issue.

“Pending final settlement, China would like to conduct practical cooperation in various fields with parties concerned, including under the principle of shelving differences and seeking joint development,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said in a press briefing in April.

READ: What Cayetano missed in justifying South China Sea joint development



Philippines can Still Recover Sovereignty, Dignity, Resources in the South China Sea

July 16, 2018
Commentary: Time to recover from failure to use the South China Sea ruling as leverage
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By Dindo Manhit ( – July 16, 2018 – 3:26pm

During the second anniversary of our nation’s victory at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in the Hague, the Stratbase ADR Institute gathered international experts, key stakeholders from the academe, government, and the private sector to discuss the consequences of the policy of appeasement that the administration had taken, in addition to the threats against and opportunities within the international rules-based order.

Brahma Chellaney, professor of Strategic Studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, said that “compliance with or defiance of international rules has no correlation to state size.” He noted that China’s defiance has heightened international concerns about the security of maritime domain.

The Philippine victory at the Arbitral Tribunal is concrete proof that small nations like the Philippines can make our voices heard in a rules-based regime.

He said that as far as China was concerned international law matters only when it serves their interest.

The current administration has failed to use the landmark ruling that invalidated China’s “historic claims” on the South China Sea as a leverage to claim what is ours and fully explore and use the abundant resources in the West Philippine Sea.

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Instead, amid friendlier relations, China continued its military build-up in the South China Sea. They continue to destroy our marine resources, dictate the rules of the sea and bully our poor fishermen who are just making a livelihood in the Scarborough Shoal.

Dr. Go Ito of Meiji University asserted that the Philippines can better enforce the award by engaging like-minded partners like the United States and Japan to support the 2016 decision. He also noted that issues related to environmental protection in the South China Sea and maritime areas can also be raised to counter China.

What Filipinos want

In its effort to appease China and generate much-needed capital to finance its ambitious infrastructure program, the Duterte administration has adopted “silent diplomacy,” which prevents it from protesting the belligerent behavior of China in the South China Sea.

This is against the wishes of the majority of Filipinos, who clamor for a different approach. They want the Duterte administration to protect its territorial integrity and defend its claims in the West Philippine Sea. The results of a recent Pulse Asia survey showed that 73 percent of Filipinos want the current administration to assert our rights and protect our territorial sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea.

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On the other hand, 36 percent of the Filipinos want our government to file a diplomatic protest against China amidst the reports of its continued militarization of the South China Sea. In addition, 22 percent believed that there is a need to strengthen military alliance with other countries such as the United States, Japan and Australia.The national survey by the Social Weather Stations likewise confirms these findings with four out five Filipinos or 81 percent saying that it is not right to do nothing about China’s intrusion in claimed territories.

The Filipinos are now taking their stand to protect our territorial integrity. Moreover, they want our government to do what it should do—use diplomatic protests as an expression of our dissatisfaction on various cases.

While the president reiterates that we need China to boost trade, tourism and infrastructural development, a small percentage of Filipinos believe that friendlier relations will promote stability in the South China Sea.

The surveys affirm a strong patriotism among Filipinos, that they want to protest against all unlawful and coercive practices of other states.

The Philippines is for the Filipinos to enjoy, benefit and explore. We should never allow others states to enhance its political and economic power at our expense.

We must protest what is unlawful, coercive and contrary to the correct principles that govern relations between states. Our people deserves a government that is willing to fight for their citizens’ future and not a government that is helpless and weak.

We must defend what is ours now before it is too late.


Dindo Manhit is the president of think tank Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute, a partner of




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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law. Vietnam has been unable to develop its own undersea oil due to China’s aggressive behavior.

Demonstrations in Vietnam should be a wake-up call for China — Distrust of China on the rise?

July 14, 2018

Distrust of China may be on the rise from Vietnam, to New Zealand, Australia and into the Belt and Road nations of South Asia

By Tuan Anh Luc, UNSW Canberra

Since mid-June 2018, numerous anti-China protests have been reported in Vietnam. Demonstrations of this kind have not been seen since the widespread anti-China protests in Vietnam in 2008 and 2014. Protesters rallied to express opposition to the draft law on special economic zones (SEZs) that was to be brought before the National Assembly for consideration.

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Banners held by protestors read things like ‘No leasing land to China even for one day’. Most of the rallies were non-violent, but in Binh Thuan province protestors threw Molotov cocktails and rocks at police. Hanoi asserts that hostile forces incited the demonstrations to destabilise the country.

The draft bill proposes a legal groundwork for establishing three long-planned SEZs. The policy on establishing SEZs has been stipulated in the country’s constitution since 1992. Government leaders in Hanoi describe the bill as a boost for development and as providing Vietnam with ‘room for institutional experiments’. The three SEZs will be granted favourable legal and policy conditions to attract foreign investments. Foreign investors can lease land for up to 99 years.

But the 99-year lease regulation worries many in Vietnam, mostly for national security concerns about the possibility that China’s investment will dominate. Under public pressure, government officials decided to delay a vote on the draft bill until the next session of the National Assembly in October.

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Protesters hold a banner which reads “No Leasing Land to China even for Anytime” during a demonstration against a draft law on the Special Economic Zone in Hanoi, Vietnam June 10, 2018. REUTERS/Staff

SEZs should not be rejected out of hand. Many SEZ models in China, South Korea, United Arab Emirates and Singapore have been successful. They are also not new to Vietnam, but the Cai Bau and Con Dao SEZs in the early 1990s failed, as did the first attempt in Phu Quoc in the mid-1990s and Hai Phong soon after.

Opponents to the draft law argue that the three proposed SEZs would be in areas of strategic importance. Van Don in Quang Ninh province is adjacent to China’s Guangxi province. Bac Van Phong is not far from Cam Ranh Bay, a well-known strategic military port. And Phu Quoc island is only 20 kilometres from the deep-water port that Cambodia leased to China for 99 years in 2016.

Vietnamese concern about Chinese investment sits on firm foundations. Popular anti-China sentiment and distrust of China in Vietnam is based on a collective historical memory of China’s repeated attempts to subjugate Vietnam in the past. Every single Chinese dynasty since Qin Shi Hoang has attempted to invade Vietnam. Memories of Chinese aggression — including in the northern border war in 1979 and the Spratly naval clash (Gac Ma battle) in 1988 — remain fresh in the public’s mind. Informed by this historical memory, anti-China protesters in Vietnam today are concerned that something akin to Russia’s seizure of Crimea could happen between Vietnam and China. According to a 2014 Pew Research survey, only 16 per cent of Vietnamese people hold a favourable view of China.

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Gac Ma memorial marchers

The nature of Chinese overseas investment is also viewed with caution in Vietnam. There are worries about the so-called ‘Chinese debt trap’, whether China cares about the risk of environmental degradation and the tendency for low-skilled Chinese workers to be brought over to work on projects instead of domestic workers.

China’s foreign policy actions over the last 10 years contrast sharply with its charm offensive of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Most noteworthy was China’s show of goodwill in assisting ASEAN during the Asian financial crisis. But since late 2009, especially under the presidency of Xi Jinping, China’s behaviour has aroused concern.

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In the maritime domain, China has been and continues to be defiant to international law and increasingly assertive in the South China Sea — not to mention China’s refusal to accept the ruling on the South China Sea awarded by the Arbitral Tribunal two years ago even though it is a party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982. In addition, China has built seven artificial islands on different features in the Spratly and the Paracel archipelagos over the last several years. More recently, China installed anti-ship cruise and surface-to-air missile systems on three artificial islands in the Spratlys, and landed H-6K nuclear bombers on Woody Island in the Paracels. Admiral Philip Davidson, Commander of the newly renamed Indo-Pacific Command, told the US Senate Armed Services Committee that ‘China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States’.

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Chinese military exercising on Islands in the South China Sea

Problems with China’s overseas investments have spurred anti-China sentiment elsewhere in the region, as shown in several protests in Thailand, the Philippines, and Myanmar in the last few years. The low quality of made-in-China infrastructure projects, concern about China’s extensive use of Chinese labourers in its overseas projects and increasing anxiety over a ‘Chinese debt trap’ continue to be obstacles to Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China’s militarisation in the South China Sea has also undermined strategic trust in the region and raised concerns about participation in China’s ambitious BRI plan.

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Anti-China protests in Vietnam should not be perceived solely as a domestic issue, but part of a wider regional political and security dynamic. Hanoi must draw its own lesson from the recent anti-China protests about the importance of clear communication with its public regarding new laws. Its challenge moving forward is to strike a nuanced balance between economic growth and national security considerations. Given the mixed success of its previous SEZ models, Hanoi should proceed with caution.

For its part, China should not arrogantly label the protests in Vietnam as ‘illegal gatherings’ but instead consider them as a wake-up call to the unfriendly, if not wrong-headed, Chinese approach to public diplomacy. Currently it seems that Southeast Asian perceptions of Chinese activities undermine its claim to a peaceful rise.

Tuan Anh Luc is a PhD Candidate in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales, Canberra.



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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law. Vietnam has been unable to develop its own undersea oil due to China’s aggressive behavior.


Philippines President Duterte under pressure to press South China Sea claims

July 14, 2018

Two years after arbitration win, Philippine policy slammed as soft on Beijing

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Banners declaring the Philippines a province of China appeared in various parts of Metro Manila on July 12. Nobody has claimed responsibility for the apparent prank.(Contributed photo)

MANILA — Two years after the Philippines won a major legal victory against China at The Hague, President Rodrigo Duterte is coming under pressure to wield the ruling in its South China Sea disputes and to discard what many see as a weak-kneed approach.

At a forum held by local think tank Stratbase ADR Institute on Thursday, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario had a question for the diplomats, geopolitical experts and journalists in attendance.

“What should we call one that uses muscle to deprive others of their rights?”

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Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario

Del Rosario, who chairs Stratbase, supplied his own answer, “A bully.”

He went on with a counter-query for a “balanced view.” “What may we call one that acquiesces to the abuses against it?”

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“A willing victim,” he said, before branding China “a grand larcenist” and “international outlaw.”

This was how Manila’s former top diplomat portrayed the Philippines’ attitude exactly two years after it won a landmark case regarding claims in the South China Sea.

On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Arbitration Court in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines, which had challenged Beijing’s claim over the 3.5 million sq. km. area.

The court, which does not have an enforcement mechanism, ruled that China’s historic “nine-dash line” has no legal basis. It was an embarrassing defeat for Beijing, which says it holds “indisputable sovereignty” over the waterway.

Some $3 trillion to $5 trillion worth of trade passes through the South China Sea every year. Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have territorial claims in the body of water.

Duterte, who assumed the presidency less than two weeks before the ruling, has adopted a nonconfrontational approach on the issue in exchange for billions of dollars worth of economic deals. In a reversal of his predecessor’s policy, Duterte has embraced China, saying the Philippines would find itself at war with the most powerful nation in Asia were it to press its claims.

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is being criticized for taking a soft stance toward China regarding disputes in the South China Sea.   © Reuters

Alan Peter Cayetano, the incumbent foreign minister, has said the Philippines will not give up “an inch” of territory. Yet he avoids publicly chastising China over its militarization of the sea. Instead, he says missiles installed on China-built islands in disputed areas are not directed at Manila but at those who dare to take on a rising maritime power.

This approach is “naive” and has only worsened the situation, said Jay Batongbacal, director at the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea.

“It would be naive to think that being told that the Philippines is not a target would automatically and magically change the region’s geography and alter the strategic location of the country as a potential battle space,” he said at the forum, organized by Manila think tank Stratbase ADR Institute, chaired by Del Rosario.

In June, a video of Chinese coast guards seizing Filipino fishermen’s catch circulated on social media, drawing the ire of many Filipinos. The Philippine government, however, played down the episode.

The incident “is one indicator of the level to which the rules-based order at sea has deteriorated within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone,” Batongbacal said.

Vice-President Leni Robredo, who also spoke at the forum, said “China’s encroachment on Philippine territories is the most serious external threat to our country since World War II.”

“This is the time for us to peacefully protest any effort to limit movements within these waters,” she said.

On Thursday, red banners declaring the Philippines a “province of China” mysteriously appeared in various parts of Metro Manila. Batongbacal believes the antic was a form of protest against Duterte’s perceived pro-China policy.

In a survey conducted in June by Pulse Asia, a local pollster, and commissioned by Stratbase, 73% of respondents believe Duterte should assert the Philippines’ claims in the South China Sea.

Acting Supreme Court Chief Justice Antonio Carpio said the president has the “constitutional duty to conduct regular patrols” in the area. “The Filipino people would like to see security patrols periodically and regularly,” he said at the forum.

However, George Siy, director at the Integrated Development Studies Institute think tank in Manila, said Duterte’s nonconfrontational approach is working and the Philippines is reaping the fruits of an “independent foreign policy.”

“We have become a respected party all over Asia,” Siy told foreign correspondents last Tuesday. “This is a triumph that is multidimensional. We don’t have to give up anything. We use diplomacy and a strategic and long-term approach.”

Nikkei staff writer Mikhail Flores contributed to this report.