Philippines Proposes 'Gentleman's Agreement' with China on South China Sea

By agreeing to bilateral negotiations, analysts say the Philippines weakens the position of other countries involved, impedes efforts for a multilateral solution, and lays bare China's ability to control the agenda in the South China Sea and USA unwillingness to antagonize Beijing over the dispute.

Christopher Roberts, Associate Professor at the Australian Defence Force Academy campus of the University of New South Wales said he believes any agreement between China and ASEAN will be "code-of-conduct lite".

However, it's likely to lack teeth if recent statements from ASEAN with regards to China are any guide.

After a meeting between Chinese and ASEAN officials in the southern city of Guiyan, China's Foreign Ministry said the framework had been agreed upon, although it gave no details of its contents. "It will provide a good foundation for the next round of consultations".

The island is part of the small Natuna archipelago, remote Indonesian islands in the South China Sea, home to rich fishing grounds and abundant oil reserves.

But for former Philippine ambassador to the UN Lauro Baja Jr., Duterte could have handled the summit leaders' meeting more aggressively. Romana led their delegations to the BCM.

"If such exercises and cooperation are for the benefit of regional peace and stability, then we have no opposition", foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing.

He added that Duterte "cannot simply do nothing, or worse acquiesce to China's action, for inaction is the opposite of protecting Philippine EEZ".

Finally, China's One Belt, One Road summit concluded early this week, further as the world's leading proponent of free trade and globalization.

Both sides exchanged views on issues related to the South China Sea in a frank, in-depth, and friendly manner, where both sides reiterated their commitment to cooperate and to find ways forward to strengthen mutual trust and confidence. Beijing may simply be trying to signal that progress is being made on the South China Sea, given its stance that disputes in the waters should be addressed directly by the parties involved.

The report, published on the Weibo account of the state-run Defense Times newspaper, said China installed Norinco CS/AR-1 55mm rocket defense systems on Fiery Cross Reef in the strategic Spratly chain - just days after the two rivals said they would work to "manage and properly control" their maritime disputes. China appears to have installed the systems in order to protect the island from Vietnamese combat divers. It is also claimed by China, Taiwan, and the Philippines. The U.S. has criticized what it has called China's over militarization of its maritime outposts.

"The specific provisions on the South China Sea in the latter part of the chairman's statement recognized the importance of maintaining freedom of navigation and over-flight in and above the South China Sea", he added.

The Trump administration declined a request by the Pentagon to sail close to islands China has built there, something that happened regularly under the Obama administration.

  • Zachary Reyes