Ships will need clearance . . .
President Duterte announced Tuesday that the Philippines will require ships of other nations to seek clearance before passing through its waters. The statement follows Chinese vessels passing through the Philippines’ territorial waters in the South China Sea in recent months. The statement also suggests Duterte’s about-face on his policy on China in response to domestic criticisms. For instance, Duterte has been criticized for “selling out to China” by Leni Robredo, the current vice-president and a potential contender for the 2022 presidential election. Robredo’s comments seem to echo current public sentiment. According to a poll conducted in June, 93 per cent of participants said that it was either “very important” or “somewhat important” that “the control of the islands that China currently occupies in the (South China Sea) be given back to the Philippines.”
Ups and downs in China-Philippines relations . . .
The disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea have been the source of tension between China and the Philippines since the early 1950s. In 2013, Manila filed a case against Beijing at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), which invalidated most of China’s territorial claims over the South China Sea in its 2016 ruling. And yet, Duterte, seeking to ameliorate relations with Beijing, has put aside the ruling, acquiescing to China’s continued presence in the disputed maritime territory. This new statement suggests that Duterte is departing from his conciliatory approach towards China.
Duterte to meet Xi in Beijing next week . . .
Duterte will embark on his fifth visit to Beijing next week to discuss the PCA’s 2016 arbitration case. Through his statements, Duterte has set a different tone for the meeting with Xi, which has generally been cordial thus far. The meeting will likely be less chummy than previous ones, and its outcome will be an important indicator of Beijing-Manila relations for the foreseeable future.