Philippines Warns China It’s Keeping ‘All Options Open’ on South China Sea Dispute, Including ‘Leveraging’ Alliance with US
The Defense Department of the Philippines declared on Thursday it was keeping “all our options open” in a seeming warning to China as part of a growing diplomatic row with Beijing over hundreds of Chinese vessels in the contested South China Sea.
“As the situation (in the South China Sea) evolves, we keep all our options open in managing the situation, including leveraging our partnerships with other nations such as the United States,” Philippine Defense Department spokesman Arsenio Andolong said on Thursday, as cited by AFP and France24.
Diplomatic tensions between the Philippines and China have spiked in recent weeks after more than 200 Chinese boats were detected at Whitsun Reef, in the Spratly Islands, in the resource-rich South China Sea where the two Asian nations have conflicting claims.
Manila insists that the Chinese vessels have entered its exclusive economic zone illegally. China, which claims almost the entire aquatory (water area) of the South China Sea, has turned down the Philippine appeals
The President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, has often demonstrated a warming-up to China, and has seemed unwilling to confront Beijing on the issue.
However, earlier this week, one of Duterte’s top aides warned the Chinese boats could ignite “unwanted hostilities”.
The Philippine government’s comments that it was going to keep “all options open” with respect to the dispute with China over the South China Sea come after on Wednesday the United States reminded China of Washington’s treaty obligations to the Philippines in the event of an attack in the waters.
“An armed attack against the Philippines’ armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific, including in the South China Sea, will trigger our obligations under the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told on reporters Wednesday.
“We share the concerns of our Philippine allies regarding the continued reported massing of PRC maritime militia near the Whitsun Reef,” Price said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
Many of the Chinese boats detected at Whitsun Reef on March 7 have since scattered across the archipelago of the Spratly Islands, which is also claimed by Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Brunei, besides the Philippines and the People‘s Republic of China.
Possession of all or parts of the islands and territorial waters in the South China Sea are disputed by China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Brunei.
China has been assertive in the area in recent years, and has not shied away from harsh diplomatic confrontation with the other claimants.
In the South China Sea, China claims as its border the so called Nine-Dash Line (also referred to as the Ten-Dash Line or the Eleven-Dash Line), a demarcation line including the claimed territories, more specifically, the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands, the Scarborough Shoal, the Pratas Islands, and the Macclesfield Bank, among others.
In July 2016, in a case brought by the Philippines, an arbitral tribunal in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague found no legal basis for China’s claim of “historic rights” within the Nine-Dash Line in the South China Sea.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague found no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or resources within the Nine-Dash Line. The ruling was adamantly rejected by the Chinese government.
Territorial waters are defined by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as extending no more than 12 nautical miles from a state’s coastline. The Law of the Sea also gives states an exclusive economic zone up to 200 nautical miles from their coastline. If those measures are applied, most of the Spratly Islands would fall in the territorial waters of the Philippines and Malaysia.
The Philippines’ current President Rodrigo Duterte was elected in 2016. Regardless of the Hague arbitration court ruling, whose jurisdiction in the dispute was not recognized by China anyway, Duterte has appeared to put the South China dispute on hold in order to seek closer economic cooperation with China, and greater independence from the Philippines’ former colonial master, the United States.
Ivan Dikov, the founder of HeartlandHinterland.com, is the author of the book “Madman Diplomacy: Is North Korea Trying to Bring Back Regime Change?“, among other books.