MANILA, Philippines – The failure of the Association of South East Asian Nation (ASEAN) member states to make a strong pitch against the incursions in the disputed areas in the South China Sea in the recently-concluded summit is a victory for China, a lawmaker and a security expert said.
Akbayan partylist Representative Tom Villarin and former National Security Adviser and ex-lawmaker Roilo Golez said the Philippines, as chair of this year’s summit, missed the opportunity to place on a firm footing its maritime claims when it kept mum on the ruling of the arbitration court in The Hague.
“President Rodrigo Duterte’s Chairman’s Statement evading the mention of ASEAN’s strong position of adhering to legal and international rulings on the disputed South China Sea is a virtual cop-out of the Philippines’ victory in the United Nations Arbitral ruling,” Villarin said.
“Duterte has become a stooge of the Chinese government. He practically renounced our sovereignty in front of ASEAN leaders. Our hosting of the summit is a shameless capitulation that would weaken us as a nation,” he added.
Golez said that non-mention of The Hague ruling would be a “diplomatic triumh for China.”
“It might embolden them to advance some more in their South China Sea master plan. On the other hand, getting embarrassed might also make them more aggressive. I can see Japan, US and India favoring mention of Hague ruling,” he added.
Villarin said that the Philippines virtually gave up its independent foreign policy “to become China’s doormat in the Asia-Pacific.”
“Our leadership of ASEAN will be seen as a historic failure. The regional bloc will be seen as weak, indecisive and continues to be seen as nothing more than a social club,” Villarin added.
The 2016 ruling said that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the areas falling within what it called the nine-dash-line.
The nine-dash-line serves as basis for China’s supposed historical rights in the region, including the Spratlys that encircles as much as 90 percent of the contested waters.
Besides the Philippines, ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam are also claiming portions of the Spratlys.
In a separate statement, Golez said that as “principal beneficiary” of the ruling, the Philippines should have raised the tribunal ruling before his fellow leaders.
“We are the principal beneficiary of the ruling and the world would ask why we are not raising it,” he said.
Golez said Indonesia President Joko Widodo earlier called for ASEAN unity in dealing with the South China Sea dispute.
“That means unity against the perceived encroacher China, using the rule of law such as the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea),’ he said.