Maritime security expert urges Philippines to cooperate, not confront, in sea row

MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – The Philippines should not beg China to “play ball” on issues concerning the West Philippine Sea, according to a maritime security expert.

“There’s a better way to do this, and it starts with the Philippines approaching its fellow claimants in the South-east Asia bilaterally and multilaterally, not begging China on bended knees to pretty please play ball this time, because Beijing is not gonna play ball,” Mr Gregory Poling, an American maritime expert, said on Monday (June 7).

Mr Poling is the director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies based in Washington.

“Beijing has been consistently unwilling to meet Asean (Association of the South-east Asian Nations), or the Philippines, halfway on these issues,” he said during an online press briefing for the US Embassy Manila’s three-part webinar, “Oceans of Opportunity”.

“Yes, [Let’s] pursue joint developments, but let’s stop trying to go back and redo things that have failed consistently for the past 25 years,” Mr Poling added.

In general, cooperation on maritime protection and preservation would be a more tactful and diplomatic way of dealing with territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea or the whole of South China Sea, said Mr Poling.

“Cooperation is obviously better than confrontation. It’s certainly important for all the claimants included to pursue those bilateral and multilateral efforts, whether it’s through joint fisheries management, coastguard cooperation,” he said.

According to Mr Poling, the Philippines has been trying to promote cooperation primarily through the Code of Conduct process as well as the 2002 DOC (Asean-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea), which, he said, had a whole chapter on cooperation and mechanisms that all of the claimants, including China, were supposed to pursue.

Mr Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said that while it was ideal for parties to pursue cooperation, he said it should be a cooperation that “creates trust and confidence, cooperation based on mutual respect and equality and not cooperation for the purpose of taking advantage of a weaker party”.

He added: “But with respect to this issue… unfortunately, our experience with China has not been very good.”

Three international law experts, including former Supreme Court Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza, asked President Rodrigo Duterte to certify as urgent the enactment of a new Philippine Baselines Law.

Judge Jardeleza maintained on Monday that a new law to amend Republic Act No. 9522, or the Philippine Baselines Law of 2009, would be “the most inexpensive and yet most effective means of enforcing the Arbitral Award and strengthening our territorial and maritime rights in the West Philippine Sea”.

The proposed law identifies at least 100 maritime features, including 35 said to be rocks or high-tide features that generate a territorial sea and a contiguous zone, in the West Philippine Sea.

Judge Jardeleza said the proposed changes to the law “ensures that the Philippines is the first claimant over the Spratly chain of islands to legislate the individual names and baselines of the claimed features”.

The Spratly Islands are called Nansha Islands by the Chinese.

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