The two former Philippines officials asking the International Criminal Court to investigate Chinese President Xi Jinping for his “crimes against humanity” in the South China Sea say their aim is to improve the lives of Filipino fishermen and Beijing should take their move seriously.
Former Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario and former ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales filed the complaint last week before Manila’s withdrawal from the ICC took effect.
In a press conference on Friday night, Rosales said: “I think if I were China I would take this seriously because this is not our first encounter with them. It’s our second encounter and we are very serious about winning this encounter as well.”
He was referring to the Philippines legal challenge against Beijing’s territorial claims at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2013. The court ruled in Manila’s favour in 2016.
Ex-Philippine officials accuse Xi Jinping of crimes against humanity
China and the Philippines are among the countries that have overlapping claims in the South China Sea. Beijing has stepped up its military deployment there in recent years, leading to close encounters between Chinese and US naval vessels.
In their request, Rosario and Morales accused Xi and other Chinese officials of turning seven disputed reefs into islands in a massive engineering feat, causing extensive environmental damage, and of blocking large numbers of fishermen, including about 320,000 Filipinos, from their fishing grounds.
Del Rosario, who served in the administration of former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, indicated that the reaction to his and Morales’ move was similar to six years ago when many were sceptical that the arbitration case would prosper.
Morales described the ICC request naming Xi, Foreign Minister Wang Yi and China’s envoy to Manila Zhao Jianhua, as a case of “David and Goliath”.
“That he [Xi] is powerful does not deter anyone to file a case against him. Don’t be fascistic. Let’s all be optimistic.”
Asked by sceptical reporters to gauge their chances of success, Del Rosario said, “It may or may not work but at the very least, we should explore it.”
But Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte downplayed the significance of the request, pointing out that China was not a member of the ICC to begin with. Neither would this move affect bilateral relations.