Editorial: Talking as a strategy to resolve sea dispute

DIDN'T we celebrate just a while ago the court favoring our country against China over South China Sea dispute? But with China's recent expansion on the islands, what can we do or what do we hold as a country that they will honor the United Nations (UN) Arbitral Tribunal?

The UN Arbitral Tribunal, on July 2016, issued its decision that the Philippines has exclusive sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea (in the South China Sea) and that China's "nine-dash line" is invalid. The Tribunal issued its Award after several months of hearings and submission of documents. However, China was absent throughout the proceedings, refusing to recognize the case.

"The Tribunal concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the 'nine-dash line," the statement released to the media said.

The Tribunal concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the "nine-dash line," the statement released to the media said.

"Having found that none of the features claimed by China was capable of generating an exclusive economic zone, the Tribunal found that it could -- without delimiting a boundary -- declare that certain sea areas are within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, because those areas are not overlapped by any possible entitlement of China," it added.

The Tribunal also said that China has violated Philippine sovereign rights.

Now, as we learn that China is working on new expansions under a deal brokered by both Manila and Beijing, we have President Rodrigo Duterte saying he remains optimistic that China will honor the rules as well as their words.

"China has put it on record, that near the Pag-asa, where we also have our bay there, the Scarborough Islands, China has committed to us not to build anything there and I hope that they would honor that commitment to us," Duterte said.

"I have been clear on this. I did not grab anything, but this is mine," he said, referring to waters and features within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

Duterte nonetheless gave an assurance that he will raise the maritime issue to his Chinese counterpart within his term to discuss "what is really in store for us all."

He also said the Philippines is not ready to go to war against China, adding that "talking" to Beijing remains his key strategy in solving the sea row so as not to not upset the Asian power.

"I hope we will reach that stage. And China is a good listener. Okay?" Duterte said.

The Philippines last April hosted the 30th Asean summit, which was highlighted by a watered-down communique that evaded reference to China's maritime encroachment in the South China Sea.

China is sensitive to even a veiled reference by Asean to its seven reclaimed reefs, which, according to some experts, have the capability to accommodate warplanes and military facilities.

Analysts earlier expressed disappointment over Asean's apparent soft stance on China's aggressive activities in the sea-with some saying this response could embolden Beijing to step up its incursion in the area, thereby undermining the bloc's centrality.

Duterte, in an interview, said he sought maritime security and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea with Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. "But always, we can resolve it by just talking," the Philippine leader said.

Apparently, all we have is China's words and hope that they will honor it and give us what is due to us.
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