06/29/20 AT 7:40 AM
- Michael Pompeo's Twitter message praised the 36th ASEAN summit, saying: "China cannot be allowed to treat the SCS as its maritime empire. We will have more to say on this topic soon"
- This could be a sign that Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte was seeking to move toward the U.S. and away from China concerning the situation in the South China Sea
- Duterte had taken a soft stance toward China, and was described by some as Beijing-friendly
On Saturday (June 27), he posted another tweet: “The United States welcomes ASEAN Leaders’ insistence that South China Sea disputes be resolved in line with international law, including UNCLOS (United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea). China cannot be allowed to treat the SCS as its maritime empire. We will have more to say on this topic soon.”
The tweet was a message in response to a joint statement from the 36th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit that was held the previous day.
The statement expressed the concerns among the ASEAN leaders over the situation in the South China Sea. Some of the concerns were:
- The importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety, and freedom of navigation and overflight above the South China Sea
- Upholding international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in the South China Sea
- Working actively toward the full and effective implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in its entirety
- The early conclusion of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea consistent with international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS
- Emphasizing the “importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation”
In 2016, Duterte was elected to his six-year term and was handed an “ace card” in July when the Philippines won an arbitration award by The Hague’s Arbitral Tribunal that ruled against China’s “nine-dash line” claims to the sea, including those within Philippine’s exclusive economic zone. Beijing rejected the ruling and there was no enforcement mechanism in place.
Duterte has taken a soft stance toward China, described by some as Beijing-friendly, since his tenure as president. He shrugged off the sinking of a Philippine fishing boat by the Chinese Coast Guard vessel as an accident and agreed to put discussions of the 2016 Hague ruling aside while negotiations over the exploration of oil-rich waters were ongoing.
The COVID-19 pandemic that originated in China and has caused a virtual shutdown in the Philippines may have hardened Duterte’s stance. The negotiations have stalled, and China continues its attempts in the South China Sea.
Now, the Philippine Department of Energy and Department of Foreign Affairs officials are lobbying Duterte to reassert the country’s sovereign claim to seabed energy resources contested by China and push for Chinese compensation for Filipino fishermen from the fishing boat incident.
Pompeo’s tweet is an indication that Duterte and Philippine diplomats are shifting back toward the U.S., the country’s long-time ally. Duterte even reversed his position on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) a mutual defense treaty that he sought to cancel in February before anyone knew the full impact of COVID-19.