MANILA, Philippines — Within days of the International Criminal Court prosecutor saying it has no jurisdiction over the allegations against Chinese President Xi Jinping for “crimes against humanity” in the West Philippine Sea, Foreign Affairs secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. tweeted that the Philippines often stood up to China.
“[W]e stand up to China in the things that matter without fail and are acknowledged by Vietnam as the lead in the South China Sea disputes,” he wrote on his Twitter account, which he also uses for official statements.
The Straits Times, citing a release from Vietnam’s foreign ministry, reported in late November that Vietnam and China have agreed “to maintain mechanisms to discuss sea-related issues and to cooperate with each other in organising activities to celebrate the 70th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations next year.”
The same report notes that “tensions have soared between Beijing and Hanoi as Chinese survey ship Haiyang Dizhi 8 repeatedly violated Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone while searching for oil and gas reserves.” Forbes, too, has written that Hanoi has been “taking the lead once again, among its neighbors, in the fight to contain China’s South China Sea ambitions.”
Vietnam also has a maritime dispute with China in the South China Sea and deputy foreign minister Le Hoai Trung is quoted in a Reuters report in November as saying Vietnam prefers negotiations but could explore legal action over the dispute.
In 2016, the Philippines won a favorable ruling from The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which said there is no legal basis for Beijing’s nine-dash line, which covers a large part of the South China Sea.
‘Let’s leave it as it is. Such is life.’
Despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s insistence that the Hague ruling was “final, binding and not subject to appeal,” Xi has made it clear that Beijing rejects the ruling and the arbitration case, which China refused to participate in.
Duterte says he brought up the arbitral ruling in a meeting with Xi, but has also said the Philippines cannot risk war by forcing the issue.
In July 2019, Duterte said that the ruling could no longer be enforced. “What would really result if we – I go there and insist on driving them out? You would think China would – would allow itself to be bullied? Papayag kaya ang China? My question to you is, who is in the possession of the property under the claim of the legitimate ownership?” Duterte said.
Locsin later said in a separate tweet that the Philippines would most probably lose if it were to bring the ruling to the United Nations, owing to the fact of the UN being “dominated by countries grateful to China.”
“So let’s leave it as is; move on to mutual beneficial cooperation. Such is life,” he said.
‘That’s how it is. Nobody died.’
An incident where a Filipino fishing boat was rammed by a Chinese vessel was met with calls of calm from Malacañang, which has since said it is up to the affected fishermen to file cases over the incident.
On June 24, Duterte apologized to the 22 fishermen of fishing boat Gem-Ver 1, but only after he played down the incident, insisting that no further action could be taken because it was just a “maritime accident.”
“Well, I’m sorry but that’s how it is,” he said. “[T]hat is very small because nobody died.”
The fishermen’s own account says that the ship was anchored at Recto Bank, which the Philippines owns, and was suddenly and forcibly rammed, after which the Chinese ship that rammed into their boat left the scene.The 22 fishermen were left in the water and were only later rescued by passing Vietnamese fishermen.
Although Locsin himself tweeted that the act of leaving the fishermen stranded at sea was “contemptible and condemnable,” he later took the position that the fishermen involved were not totally blameless either in an interview with ANC’s “Headstart.”“I got the Coast Guard report immediately. So our investigation was finished. It was exhaustive. I got to tell you it doesn’t paint our fishermen in the brightest light,” he said then.
Filing complaint ‘a futile exercise’
The Filipino captain of Greek-owned ship Green Aura also saw the government take a hands-off approach to alleged harassment near Scarborough, or Panatag, Shoal.
The skipper of the Green Aura claimed to be have been harassed and tailed by ships claiming to be “naval warships” and who insisted their ship change course.Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said that the case was “not our concern” because it involved a Greek-owned ship and it was up to Athens to handle the incident.
A Social Weather Stations survey released in late November suggested that China earned a “bad” net trust of -33 among Filipinos, making them the least trusted country in the archipelago.In response to the survey results, Malacañang said they believed that Filipinos would eventually “appreciate” China.
Duterte, who announced an “independent foreign policy in 2016, was quoted as saying on a visit to China that “[T]here are three of us against the world – China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.”
When Duterte campaigned for the 2016 presidential elections, he vowed to take a jet ski to Scarborough Shoal and plant the Philippine flag in the South China Sea to assert the country’s ownership over the area.
He later expressed surprise that people took that claim seriously.