Foundations for a Way Forward in the Spratlys

01.04.2016
Foreign Affairs Security

It is necessary to begin a more realistic, sustained, and multivalent dialogue to accompany a longer-term foreign policy vision for the Philippines in defense of our national interests.

  1. Do away with the self-imposed binary of bilateral talks or non-negotiation with China to instead employ a more realistic, multivalent, and sustained dialogue at all levels

  2. Build the foundations for a way forward for all claimants through mechanisms that build trust and collaboration in the disputed area

 

Do away with the self-imposed binary of bilateral talks or non-negotiation with China to instead employ a more realistic, multivalent, and sustained dialogue at all levels

Context

Both Vietnam and the Philippines have entreated the U.S. to counterbalance the rising power of China in the region, but only the Philippines has cut off bilateral talks on the issue. Even if the case before the ITLOS is decided in the Philippines’ favor and we win on the issue of the nine-dash line, that will only directly resolve the questions of Recto Bank and Scarborough Shoal, and the territorial dispute will continue on between the Philippines and China. Therefore it is necessary to begin a more realistic, sustained, and multivalent dialogue to accompany a longer-term foreign policy vision for the Philippines in defense of our national interests.

Policy proposal 

  • The Philippines must restore high-level dialogue and bilateral talks, employing a combination of all levels of engagement, not merely an either/or position of bilateral talks or non-negotiation.
    • This will not amount to a renouncement of our claims or abandonment of our arbitration case
    • This recognizes that China’s history shows the requirement of good relations between countries in order to effect border dispute settlements
  • The Philippines must support Track 1 state-to-state relations through the mechanisms of Track 2 (state and non-state actors) and Track 3 (non-state and non-state actors; people-to-people) diplomacy to normalize, institutionalize, and deepen relations.
    • Begin a program of increased cultural exchanges, educational ties, and security consultations with China to regularize relations and give those relations stronger foundations through people-to-people exchanges
    • Mobilize our strong ties to China through the historic and vital ethnic Chinese community in the Philippines that has come to overwhelmingly dominate our business industry
  • The Philippines should join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

 

Build the foundations for a way forward for all claimants through mechanisms that build trust and collaboration in the disputed area

Policy Proposal

  • The Philippines must pursue with ASEAN and China a binding Code of Conduct for the South China Sea (COC).
    • Draft ASEAN’s own COC and then employ international pressure to make the PRC sign or amend it—this is an urgent need, as we must capitalize on China’s own December 2014 reaffirmation of the COC as the agreed mechanism for dispute settlement
  • Set up a network of emergency “hot lines” communication through which authorities can contact each other to defuse situations prior to their escalation.
  • Publish and distribute maps showing coordinates of each claimant’s claims in the South China Sea.
  • The Philippines should use ASEAN as a standing, continuous forum for dialogue.
    • Hold additional ‘minilateral’ meetings with Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei to aid ASEAN efforts to resolve the dispute1
  • The Philippines should work with ASEAN to position Indonesia as an honest broker in the territorial and maritime disputes.
  • Use existing, ongoing maritime activities to enhance trust and cooperation amongst all the relevant claimants through deliberate cooperation and collaboration in fishing, fisheries management, and surveillance, investigation, and search and rescue operations
  • Such joint work will also create and reinforce norms that will aid in territorial settlements between those involved, and the diffusion of such norms will help create a stronger regional community. “Through cooperation, individual countries would regard the energy potential in the South China Sea from a wider regional perspective, rather than being restricted to effects from an individual or a nationalist viewpoint.”2

FOOTNOTES

1

Marlay Ross, “China, the Philippines, and the Spratly Islands” Asian Affairs, An American Review 23, no. 4 (Winter 1997): 195-210.

2

Ibid.

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