Sunday, March 30, 2014

‘Dangerous stage of confrontation’ seen after filing of Memorial

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 31): ‘Dangerous stage of confrontation’ seen after filing of Memorial

The Philippines must be prepared for potential economic sanctions and other forms of diplomatic reprisals by China with the March 30 filing of its Memorial challenging before the United Nations the claims of the Chinese over the West Philippine Sea.

“Our decision to move ahead despite Chinese protestation and their alleged offer of ‘carrots’ — disengagement from certain occupied features and not imposing an ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone) in the West Philippine Sea — means that we may enter a dangerous stage of confrontation,” Prof. Richard Heydarian of the Ateneo Center for Asian Studies told the Manila Bulletin yesterday.

According to Heydarian, much will depend on how the Philippines translate its legal battle into “a springboard to politically pressure China” to uphold its commitment to the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), and the Declaration of a Code of Conduct in South China Sea (DOC) under the auspices of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

“Military support from external partners such as the US will also be crucial in preventing a limited potential warfare with China over disputed maritime features,” he said.

However, Heydarian stressed that although the filing of the Memorial risks permanent estrangement with China, “it also holds the potential to rally the region especially like-minded countries like Vietnam and Japan, and the broader international community behind the Philippines, and in this way pressure Beijing to explore a diplomatic compromise with the Philippines in the future.”

The same line was echoed by University of the Philippines Institute of Marine Affairs Prof. Jay Batongbacal who declared that in terms of the arbitration, “filing the Memorial does seem to indicate that the Philippines has locked its course towards whatever will be the outcome.”

“There have been cases where the parties amicably settled their dispute before judgment on the merits, but in those cases the parties maintained cordial relations despite the case,” said Batongbacal. “In this instance, Philippine-China relations obviously have already deteriorated even way before the filing of the Memorial.”

“There seems to be very little opening, if any, for the two sides to each an amicable settlement given their public and diplomatic positions,” he added.

Former Philippine ambassador to the United Nations Lauro Baja, however, was more optimistic with his take on the filing of the memorial.

“Relations between states should never reach the point of no return,” the seasoned Filipino diplomat who helped negotiate the Conduct of Parties in South China Sea said. “Diplomacy never ends.”

“The challenge is to open and or keep lines of communication open especially between the leadership of both countries.”

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