EDITORIAL | 6 years after The Hague decision on the South China Sea, push for the rule of law

Six years have passed since the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in the Netherlands issued a ruling rejecting China’s claim to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea. China ignored the ruling, saying it is simply a piece of “old paperas he makes his unilateral changes to the status quo a done deal. The international community must once again strongly condemn China.

The Philippines decided to press charges in January 2013, after China seized a reef, Scarborough Shoal, in 2012, over which the Philippines claims sovereignty. The country’s current foreign minister, Enrique Manalo, released a statement on July 12on the occasion of the sixth anniversary of the judgment.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo, with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi before bilateral talks in Manila, Philippines, Wednesday, July 6, 2022. (Jam Sta Rosa/Pool Photo via AP)

Noting the importance of the Hague arbitration, he underlined, thinking of China: “These conclusions are no longer within the reach of denial and refutation, and are conclusive because indisputable. The price is final.

He added: “We strongly reject attempts to undermine it; even erase it from the law, from history and from our collective memories.

Manalo’s statement made it clear that the Philippines’ new administration will focus on the decision and, without naming any specific country, will insist that China respect it.

The new president faces a showdown

Ferdinand Marcos Jr was just sworn in as president of the Philippines at the end of June, and the differences in his administration from the Duterte era are already clear.

Despite its ups and downs, the Duterte administration has distinguished itself by its deference to China. Duterte, who assumed the presidency in June 2016 just before the decision, expected economic support from Beijing and aligned himself with China, echoing that the decision was “just a piece of paper “.

Filipino activists demand compliance from China on the sixth anniversary of the international tribunal’s decision invalidating China’s claims in the South China Sea. Outside the Chinese consulate in Makati City, the Philippines, July 12, 2022. REUTERS/Eloise Lopez

What happened in the meantime? China has advanced its tactic of turning man-made islands in the South China Sea into military bases. In March 2021, more than 220 Chinese vessels were observed in the waters surrounding the Spratly Islands (called the Nansha Islands by China), over which China and the Philippines claim sovereignty. More than 100 Chinese ships were confirmed in the region in April 2022, increasing tensions in the region. In other words, China seeks to make its unilateral change to the status quo a fait accompli.

Freedom of Navigation Operations

The United States Navy announced that one of its destroyers conducted “freedom of navigation operationsin the South China Sea on July 13 and 16, as the Ronald Reagan Strike Group entered the South China Sea, bring china under control.

In the United States, expectations of the new President Marcos are high. President Biden invited him to visit the United States.

Meanwhile, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with Marcos earlier in July and possibly invited him to visit China. It seems that a standoff between the United States and China is underway.

Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi meets with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr July 6, 2022. Presidential Photographers Division (PPD)/Handout via REUTERS.

Before taking office, Marcos said he would have to walk a “very delicate path” between the United States and China. His foot is not yet firm.

In his first state of the nation address on July 25, however, Marcos’ foreign policy direction seemed clearer. He said, “I will not preside over any process that will relinquish even one square centimeter of territory of the Republic of the Philippines to a foreign power.”

Japan’s support

On July 12, exactly six years after the decision, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi had a phone conversation with Manalo and briefed him on Japan’s policy of supporting the Philippine Coast Guard with new equipment. The Japanese government should support the Marcos administration in cooperation with the United States.

Cooperation with the Philippines is absolutely essential to achieve the “free and open Indo-Pacific” advocated by the recently assassinated former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

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(Read the editorial in Japanese on this link.)

Author: editorial board, The Sankei Shimbun

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