Long before the Philippines was designated as host for the ASEAN Summit 2017, those instrumental in filing and winning the case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague over the country’s maritime territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea (SCS) were hoping that this could be the right opportunity and venue by which the ASEAN bloc, through its chairman, President Rodrigo Duterte, could express condemnation over China’s aggressive build-up of artificial islands and militarization of the same, which are now viewed as a threat to the peace and security of the region.
What gave these people the confidence that this will be realized is the fact that many of the member-nations are, like the Philippines, contesting China’s claim of its own territorial waters.
Unfortunately, the ruling of the PCA came after Duterte got elected president and as we all know he never considered this favorable arbitral tribunal’s ruling a victory of sort for the country as he continued making deals with China.
In fact one would think that Duterte should have kept distance from China after illegally claiming and occupying parts of our sovereignty, but he instead honored the invitation of China’s president to visit him.
But do we really have to blame Duterte if, as chairman of the 30th ASEAN Summit, he failed to censure China over what it has done with impunity in the SCS?
Throughout the summit Duterte said the Philippines and other nations were helpless to stop the island building, so there was no point discussing it at all.
Duterte was just being practical and realistic for, indeed, the issue in the SCS among claimant nations versus China is no longer about resolving China’s permanent military presence in the area, but rather in trying to manage and make the best out of their presence in the region.
What we and the other ASEAN member-nations are facing now is a developing geopolitical situation which has been arrogantly imposed on us.
This is the price of being an underdeveloped country. Against China we are nothing. If the U.S. was not able to stop China’s military build-up in the SCS, who are we to stop them?
But as people, we just have to make sure that our pride and dignity will not go to the dogs.
We will see how Duterte could protect us and where his independent foreign policy will get us to.
We can’t do nothing but cross our fingers.