Don’t rely on US, UN, neighbors in sea row – Shahani

MANILA  — The Philippines should not rely on neighboring countries and allies for protection against China’s perceived encroachment on territories in the South China Sea, career diplomat Leticia Ramos-Shahani said.

“Our difficulty now is we are alone among the Asean countries. No one has really come to the rescue. Even Vietnam, which has been quite vocal, is just too scared of China to say ‘boo’,” Shahani said in an interview on ANC aired Sunday night. China and Vietnam have opposing claims over the strategic waters.

Shahani, a former senator and UN assistant secretary-general, explained that even if the Philippines co-founded Asean, China exerts influence over the 10-nation bloc as a primary trading partner.

“We do not have to wait for Asean because now it is quite obvious that they’re scared of China because of economic reasons,” she said.

Manila should also be reminded that Beijing is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, while Washington has maintained neutrality on the sea row, she said.

“This is the time as good as any to know that we have to stand on our own. No one is going to protect us, not even the United States,” she added. The US is a long-time ally which has vowed to protect the Philippines, its former colony, through a defense treaty.

The Philippines, meanwhile, has detailed its position in a 10-volume memorandum submitted Sunday to the UN International Tribunal on the Law of Sea. It has urged other claimants to join the case, but none have so far publicly stepped forward.

Shahani said, however, that besides pushing the arbitration case, Manila should “play the diplomatic game” and start looking at political options to address the decades-old dispute.

She added that Manila should first forge a “more independent” foreign policy as prescribed in the 1982 Constitution.

The Philippines can also work on narrowing its distance with China and neighbors through “people to people” contact such as in terms of fisheries and women’s participation.

“Eventually we will realize that we should live in peace as neighbors,” she suggested.

The disputes have periodically erupted into dangerous confrontations, sparking tensions and straining ties.

In the latest incident, a government ship slipped past a Chinese coast guard blockade Saturday and brought food and fresh troops to a navy ship marooned on Second Thomas Shoal, locally known as Ayungin . The ship is used as a base by Filipino troops to bolster the country’s territorial claims in the area.

The mission was accomplished peacefully despite a radioed warning by the Chinese to the Filipinos to stop or “take full responsibility for the consequences of your action.”

Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza said the Philippines last month amended its statement of claim to include Ayungin Shoal as subject of arbitration. He said that the shoal is within the Philippines’ 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone, and that the country has sovereign rights and jurisdiction over it.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said last week that China will never accept nor participate in the international arbitration pushed by the Philippines. He called on the Philippines “to stop going any further down the wrong track so as to avoid further damage to bilateral relations.”

US State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf, meanwhile, backed the Philippines’ action, saying “all countries should respect the right of any states party, including the Republic of the Philippines, to avail themselves of the dispute resolution mechanisms provided for under the Law of the Sea Convention.”