Second of 3 parts
ANOTHER of the lies of Victor Andres Manhit, president of the pro-US ADR-Stratbase outfit, is that seven years after the arbitration award on the Philippine suit vs China was handed down by a five-man ad hoc panel, there has been growing “unanimous” support for it.
That’s a patent lie. The reality is that there has been waning interest in the arbitration award, and this year’s flurry of activity by the ADR-Stratbase to celebrate the award’s seventh anniversary was a pathetic attempt to draw attention to it.
The world and even the US has realized that the award, as President Duterte said in 2021, is just a useless “piece of paper.” As I have argued in several columns, if one reads the award, it not only does not have any means of enforcement: It actually doesn’t even order China to do anything.
Yes, it declares that the nine-dash line in the Chinese maps has no basis in international law. But it doesn’t order China to vacate the islands and reefs in the Spratlys it occupies, which the Aquino 3rd government falsely claimed was its justification for holding on to these. Contrary to ignorant claims that the suit was a “legal victory” for the country, it settled nothing over the sovereignty and maritime-rights disputes in the Spratlys. In its very fifth paragraph, the award pointed out: “Unclos does not address the sovereignty of States over land territory. Accordingly, this Tribunal has not been asked to, and does not purport to, make any ruling as to which State enjoys sovereignty over any land territory in the South China Sea, in particular with respect to the disputes concerning sovereignty over the Spratly Islands or Scarborough Shoal.”
Even a US propaganda venue on the South China Sea disputes — the Asian Maritime Transparency Institute (AMTI) — could not but help reporting the declining interest in the arbitration award. The AMTI is an affiliate of the Washington-based Center for Strategic Studies set up right after the Aquino 3rd government filed the arbitration suit in 2013. Its Philippine-based counterpart in fact is the ADR-Stratbase outfit that was set up the same day.
In its website’s July 18, 2022 edition of its “Arbitration Tracker” first set up in 2013, it lists, if we exclude the Philippines, only 23 nations now supporting the arbitration ruling, a significant decrease from the 40 supporting the arbitration before the award was handed down. These are the US, UK and 16 European Union nations.
Not coincidentally, these are the countries that were all with the US’ “Coalition of the Willing” that supported and even sent troops for America’s totally unjust invasion of Iraq in 2003, on grounds that it had weapons of mass destruction which that hapless country didn’t.
To call a spade a spade, these have been America’s loyal vassals that it can call on to support it even in a war, just as kings in ancient times got their vassals to join them in a war that only they have decided to wage. On the other hand, countries that are actively opposed are China’s allies Russia and Pakistan, and only four tiny states one might say are its vassals. That obviously reflects the current state of geopolitics, in which the US is still the hegemon.
Very significantly that 23 figure is a major reduction from the 40 that supported the arbitration before the panel handed down its decision on July 16, 2016.
The number reflects the steeply declining interest in it, with countries that initially supported it feeling that their early support was enough to please the US, that they could already ask from it some favor in the future. Also, after all the issues raised by the arbitration award — which affects solely the South China Sea maritime claims — are totally irrelevant to them. The arbitration award’s main claim — that China’s nine-dash line is illegal under Unclos — is irrelevant to all other countries in the world, except for the South China Sea’s coastal states.
When I asked a Middle Eastern ambassador his nation’s stand on the arbitration award, he grinned and said: “We have other more important issues to worry about.” A Southeast Asian diplomat on the other hand said: “Nothing’s happened in the past seven years after the award, time to move on.”
In fact there is a growing realization that the award has had a very serious blowback: It provoked China’s transformation of its reefs into huge island fortresses, with the Chinese claiming that the Philippines broke the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea by filing the arbitration case, and they are merely reciprocating. Those fortresses have given China what some analysts dub as “unsinkable aircraft carriers” that would help in an invasion of Taiwan.
Since the award’s filing, China has strengthened its resolve that it would involve the Spratlys. For example, it enacted a new law that took effect in February 2021 authorizing its Coast Guard to use lethal force (presumably with advanced weapons systems) on foreign ships operating in waters China considers its territory. On July 2018, the China Coast Guard was transferred from civilian control of the State Council and the State Oceanic Administration to the People’s Armed Police, ultimately placing it under the command of the Central Military Commission.
Diplomats noted that even the US has signaled its distancing from the arbitration award — which it actually designed and manipulated the Philippines to file. Its support for it this year was a curt three-sentence statement, issued only by the US State Department’s spokesman, Mathew Miller. By contrast, the US statement on the award last year and before that was issued by the State Department secretary, Antony Blinken.
The support for the arbitration award by EU nations claimed by the AMTI, was based not on the statements made by their foreign ministers but on a joint statement of its ambassadors to Manila issued last week. It was even careful not to name China to ask it to comply with the award. It merely said that the award is a ” significant milestone, which is legally binding upon the parties to those proceedings.” China however claimed it was not a party to the proceedings.
In its article, AMTI said that 23 countries support the award. Another 19 nations, it claimed, “issued generally positive statements noting the verdict but have stopped short of calling for the parties to abide by it.” That’s 42 out of the 193 members of the UN paying any form of support to the ruling, a tiny 2 percent of the world’s nations. It escapes me why four of our senators — including the Senate president — are calling for the government to submit it to the UN General Assembly for it to ask China to comply with it. Do they really know what the UN is?
Ironically, the ADR-Stratbase’s attempt to “celebrate” the arbitration award has only drawn attention to the reality that after seven years, nothing has come out of it. Its main impact has been for the US to impose tremendous pressure on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to implement the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which is a euphemism for the return of US military bases in the country.
It’s been seven years, folks. Isn’t it common sense to stop screaming the award be implemented and try another tack to resolve our maritime-claim disputes with China — like negotiating with it? After all, there’s not a single territorial or maritime dispute settled through a court or through a fake arbitration in which one of the involved parties refused to participate.
Such disputes were settled only by mutual agreement arrived at through negotiations, or through war.
Or is Manhit grasping at straws to survive, with the heirs of the late billionaire Albert del Rosario as well as his business associates like First Pacific CEO Manuel Pangilinan (the outfit’s vice chairman) not as passionate about the Spratlys and as anti-China like him that they’ll soon stop bankrolling his often-lying propaganda machine?
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