President Rodrigo Duterte aired the government’s grievance over the incident involving the Chinese coast guard and Philippine boats on Ayungin Shoal during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean)-China special summit, which was held virtually on Nov. 22, 2021.
“We abhor the recent event in the Ayungin Shoal and view with grave concern other similar developments. This does not speak well of the relations between our nations and our partnership,” he said.
On Nov. 16, Chinese coast guard blocked and water-cannoned Philippine boats delivering food supplies to soldiers stationed in BRP Sierra Madre, a vintage war vessel that has been a guard post since 1999.
Seven days later, on Nov. 23, Filipino navy personnel on two boats successfully delivered supplies to the Sierra Madre crew. The Chinese coast guard did not harass them, but deployed a team on a rubber boat to record the delivery on photos and videos.
Ayungin Shoal is within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague identified Ayungin in its 2016 ruling that thrashed China’s nine-dash-claim as one of the spots that is part of the Philippines’ EEZ.
Despite this ruling, the Chinese government continues to bully the Philippines and other smaller nations in Southeast Asia. Just recently, Zhao Lijian, spokesperson of China’s foreign ministry, said the Philippine government promised to remove Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana denied that the government made such a commitment. Who’s telling the truth? Is it the one-party state in East Asia known for its far-reaching propaganda machine? Or the Philippine government under the Duterte administration, which is known to issue flip-flopping statements and policies?
In the same virtual forum attended by President Duterte, Chinese President Xi Jinping told Asean heads of states and governments that his country would not bully its smaller neighbors.
Who would believe President Xi, who has been ruling the Asian powerhouse and world’s second-largest economy since 2013? The Chinese government is known for not walking the talk.
President Duterte urged his fellow Asean leaders during the forum to avoid escalation of tensions in the region by exercising self-restraint and resolving the dispute peacefully in accordance with international laws.
The President’s tone during the special summit was a deviation from his pre-recorded statement aired on May 5, 2021. He dissed the Philippines’ The Permanent Court of Arbitration win over China’s nine-dash-line claim, saying the victory was just a piece of paper that he would throw in a garbage bin.
“That paper, in real life, between nations, is nothing,” he said in Tagalog.
He further said in a mix of Tagalog and English: “In a smart-alecky conversation ... give it to me, I’ll tell you: (expletive), it’s just a piece of paper. I’ll throw that in the wastebasket.”
In the September 2020 United Nations General Assembly, President Duterte raised The Hague ruling in an online speech, saying the country “affirms that commitment in the South China Sea in accordance with UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and the 2016 arbitral award.”
The Chinese government continues to ignore the 2016 ruling. And would it seriously listen to President Duterte who is prone to double-talk? The answer is obvious.