Duterte under pressure to press South China Sea claims


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

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?”

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?”

“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.