PHILIPPINES-China relations will suffer in the next four years due to the international arbitration sought by Manila over the two country's overlapping claims in the West Philippine Sea.
This was the prediction made by Dr. Ruan Zongze, vice president of the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS), an office under the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
"We can anticipate a difficult period of time in the next four years [because of the arbitration]," said Ruan, who is visiting the Philippines as part of his official Southeast Asia tour.
He was referring to the arbitration case filed by the Philippines against China on January 22 before the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos). The Philippines is pushing the tribunal to invalidate China's "encompassing" nine-dash line.
The case is expected to run for four years.
Ruan said the Philippines cannot expect to compartmentalize the dispute from its economic relations with China.
It cannot be helped that the two countries' bilateral and economic relations will be affected by the dispute, he added.
"I wish our relationship will see light at the end of the tunnel, but not in the near future. We will be stuck in the middle for a while," Ruan told reporters during a press briefing at the Chinese Embassy in Manila.
"[The arbitration] will certainly not be conducive to bring back Chinese visitors or delegation,” he added.
China refused on February 19 to form the arbitral tribunal that will hear the parties' sides regarding their overlapping claims.
The task to form the tribunal then fell on International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (Itlos) President Shunji Yanai, who named Polish judge Stanislaw Pawlak as China’s representative.
The Philippines earlier named German judge Rudiger Wolfrum as one of the members of the five-person panel. Yanai is expected to name the other three members of the tribunal in the coming months.
But even amid the arbitration and the territorial disputes, Ruan said both countries "cannot afford not to engage with each other."
He encouraged Manila to speak bilaterally with Beijing since the arbitration will just "escalate" the tension in the region.
Ruan maintained China will not participate in any international arbitration.
"That's a policy... principle," he said.
The West Philippine Sea, purportedly rich in mineral and gas reserves, is claimed in whole by China, and in part by the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam.
Beijing and Manila are locked in a territorial dispute since a year ago when a naval standoff occurred between the two countries.
China claims 90 percent of the entire sea based on its nine-dash line while the Philippines maintains its sovereignty and jurisdiction under the Unclos' 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. (CVB/Sunnex)