China wasn’t there, but ruled the summit


THE SUMMIT meeting of the 10 leaders of the Association of Southeast Nations held this week in Manila was dominated by a non-member that was not even in the conference hall.

Through President Rodrigo Duterte, the summit chair, China succeeded in throwing into the dustbin the 2016 award by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague declaring as a violation of international law its claim over virtually the entire South China Sea.

The arbitral ruling on SCS issues has been the focus of public speculation, yet there was no mention of it in the summary statement issued yesterday by Mr. Duterte as chair.

China captured the ASEAN summit by working quietly well in advance of the proceedings in Manila, using as capital the multimillion-dollar investments and loans it had promised Mr. Duterte.

Many Filipinos have expressed concern over China’s grabbing resource-rich and strategic areas in the West Philippine Sea, building them up and militarizing the artificial islands that are now a threat to the peace and security of the region.

But President Duterte refused to bring up the PCA award at the summit. It seemed to him that whatever the common tao thought had no bearing on the agenda, the debate and the final communique of the summit.

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What’s the point? he had asked, stressing that there was nothing anyway that the Philippines could do to make China give up the isles, reefs, shoals and other maritime features it had taken over in the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines.

Mr. Duterte refused to see that his being the ASEAN chair gave the Philippines an opportunity to call attention in a diplomatic way to the PCA award and to open an amicable discussion of similar territorial disputes with China of such neighbors as Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.

(China disdained facing an ASEAN common front in resolving territorial disputes, apparently on the belief that it can handle more effectively bilateral negotiations. It looks like another resort to the divide and rule tactic.)