Navigating murky waters: The alleged "gentleman's agreement" between Duterte and Xi

Navigating murky waters: The alleged "gentleman's agreement" between Duterte and Xi

In the intricate dance of international diplomacy, what is said and what is unsaid often carries weight as heavy as any written treaty. Such is the case with the alleged "gentleman's agreement" between former Philippine president Rodrigo Roa Duterte and Chinese Prime Minister Xi Jinping regarding a shipwreck-turned-monitoring station in the contested waters of the South China Sea, known to Filipinos as the West Philippine Sea.

If the agreement--albeit informal--is true, the implications are profound.

For years, the Philippines has grappled with China's assertive presence in these waters, which have been a source of tension and dispute among neighboring nations. Initially viewed as a bully preventing Filipino coastguards from conducting resupply missions, China's actions took on a different hue with the emergence of this supposed agreement.

In the court of public opinion, agreements without written documentation often hold little sway, perceived as insubstantial whispers lost to the winds of history. However, when the players involved are no ordinary citizens but heads of state, the narrative shifts dramatically.

Duterte, having stepped down from office, may view the past with a sense of detachment, dismissing informal agreements as mere figments of memory. Yet, for Xi Jinping, such agreements may hold weight, potentially representing a continuation of policy across administrations. The absence of a written contract does not negate the impact of verbal agreements, especially in the realm of international relations.

The danger lies not only in the potential exploitation of such agreements but also in the erosion of trust between nations. If diplomacy hinges on the whims of individual leaders rather than established norms and treaties, the stability of the international order becomes fragile.

In centuries past, a gentleman's agreement was considered binding, sealed with nothing more than a handshake and a nod. But in today's world, where the stakes are higher and the implications more far-reaching, reliance on verbal assurances alone is akin to navigating treacherous waters without a compass.

China's adherence to its ancient nine-dash line claim contrasts sharply with the Philippines' reliance on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) for legal recourse. The alleged agreement undermines this reliance on international law, replacing it with the vagaries of interpersonal diplomacy.

The ramifications of this purported agreement extend beyond the tenure of Duterte, casting a shadow over future administrations' ability to assert Philippine sovereignty in the region. While Duterte may have seen his statements as casual conversation, Xi Jinping likely perceived them as tacit endorsements of China's actions in the South China Sea.

In the absence of written documentation, interpretations of verbal agreements can diverge, leading to misunderstandings and discord. The Philippines finds itself caught between the rock of legal precedent and the hard place of diplomatic maneuvering, grappling with the fallout of a purported agreement that lacks the solidity of ink on paper.

In an era where the tides of geopolitics shift swiftly, relying on the ephemeral nature of verbal agreements risks leaving nations adrift in a sea of uncertainty.


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