By Aie Balagtas See
The Philippines will not protest before the United Nations about a new law that allows the Chinese coast guard to use force against foreign boats in the South China Sea, Manila’s top diplomat said Monday, while announcing plans to meet with American officials later this month to “iron out” differences over a key military pact.
To seek redress from the U.N. would be counterproductive for Manila because an international arbitration court had ruled in the country’s favor in 2016 in a case brought against Beijing over contested waters in the sea, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said.
To do so now would only reopen litigation, which could put Manila’s legal victory at stake, he said in a television interview.
“I am not going to go back there because the Coast Guard Law has some claims as to the extent of their territory,” Locsin told ANC television.
“That will re-open the arbitral award and I’m not going to give them a chance to do that. Because I’ll tell you one thing about the Chinese – Chinese diplomacy has been very effective with most of the members of the United Nations and I’m not going to throw our victory into that and let them decide,” he said.
On Jan. 22, China’s National People’s Congress passed the Coast Guard Law, which placed the coast guard under military command. The law contains a provision that allows its ships to use weapons against any vessels found in waters that Beijing claims as its territory. The new law took effect last week.
On Jan. 27, Locsin announced that the Philippine government had filed a protest against the new Chinese law. At the time, he said the legislation was “a verbal threat of war to any country that defies the law; which, if unchallenged, is submission to it.”
Last week, Locsin publicly clashed with the spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte, Harry Roque, a former international lawyer, who said that the government could raise China’s new law before a U.N. tribunal. At the time, the Philippines’ top diplomat told Roque to “lay off” foreign affairs.
“Even Harry Roque said the same thing. He said no, and I said no. Well, a little bit angrily. I love the man, and he loves me back,” Locsin said on Monday. “But no. We’re not doing it because my brain tells me it’s wrong.”
The foreign secretary also turned down a suggestion that the Philippines reach out to Southeast Asian nations whose claims to the South China Sea overlap with China’s claims to come together against the new law.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea as its own.
Six other Asian governments – Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam – have territorial claims or maritime boundaries in the South China Sea that overlap with the sweeping claims of China. While Indonesia does not regard itself as party to the South China Sea dispute, Beijing claims historic rights to parts of that sea overlapping Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone.
The Philippines and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that have claims should take the Coast Guard Law to the U.N., Antonio Carpio, a maritime law expert and former Philippine Supreme Court justice, said recently.
“The ASEAN states that are prejudiced by this new law of China can go to UNCLOS and get this new law of China declared void under UNCLOS and international law,” Carpio had said, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Carpio, who helped the Philippines secure its 2016 win before the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, described the new Chinese law as a “threat against the world.”
Beijing, through its embassy in Manila, claimed last week that its Coast Guard Law had been “misinterpreted” and was nothing but a normal domestic legislative activity.
Locsin also said that Washington and Manila were expected to hash their differences over the Visiting Forces Agreement, a bilateral pact that allows U.S. forces to conduct large-scale exercises in Philippine territory, during the last week of February.
A year ago, President Duterte ordered that the VFA be dropped after the U.S. revoked the visa of Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, the former national police chief who had led his administration’s war on drugs.
In June, the Philippine government suspended its decision to end the deal amid Chinese threats in the South China Sea. By November, Duterte called for taking another six months to determine the status of the VFA.
“I am narrowing down the issues and soon we will meet … and iron out whatever differences we have,” Locsin said in Monday’s TV interview.
The foreign secretary said he had also affirmed Manila’s commitment to the bilateral Mutual Defense Treaty, during a recent phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“He affirmed that it was important for (him) to preface it on what Pompeo said because that was the most precise formulation I’ve ever or anyone’s ever heard of the American defense commitment and he articulated it,” Locsin said, referring to Michael Pompeo, the previous secretary of state.
In addition, Locsin said he would continue to press for a code of conduct in disputed waters of the South China Sea that “will never exclude” the United States.
“With that, you have the assurance of a balance of power in the region,” Locsin said.
Marielle Lucenio in Manila and Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato City, Philippines, contributed to this report.