Philippines denies violating own South China Sea plan

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines on Monday, August 11, denied China's claim it is violating its proposed triple action plan (TAP) to resolve South China Sea disputes by pursuing a historic case against Beijing over the contested waters.

“Maybe they misunderstood it,” Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Charles Jose said after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was quoted on Sunday, August 10, as saying the Philippines' behavior “contradicts” its own proposal.

Quoted by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Wang questioned the Philippines' case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration, even as the TAP classifies legal moves as the “final approach” to resolve South China Sea disputes. (READ: PH to ASEAN: Curb 'specific' moves in South China Sea)

The TAP also pushes for a moratorium on provocative actions as the “immediate approach.”

For the “intermediate approach,” the TAP stresses the following: 

Wang said: “If the Philippines wish to pursue its 3-step plan, it should withdraw its push for international arbitration and return to the first step....They've already skipped straight to the third step. Their behavior already contradicts their own proposals.”

Wang was apparently referring to the moratorium as the first step, and arbitration as the third step.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario presented the TAP to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Ministerial Meeting from Friday to Sunday, August 8 to August 10. Del Rosario cited more “aggressive and provocative” actions in the South China Sea, as the Philippines has slammed China for building artificial islands in the disputed waters.

Reacting to Wang's statement, Jose clarified on Monday that the TAP shouldn't be understood in terms of “steps.”

The immediate, intermediate, and final approaches under the TAP “could be held simultaneously, not necessarily consecutively,” he told reporters. “We didn't call it a step. We call it an approach.”

On Wang's call to drop the Philippines' arbitration case against China to push the TAP, Jose added, “In the promotion of our national interest, we must proceed with arbitration.”

Philippines: 'Broad support' for TAP

Jose also pointed out that ASEAN foreign ministers adopted “parts” of the TAP as “doable.”

In the joint communiqué released after the 47th ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting, the foreign ministers said: “We remained seriously concerned over recent developments which had increased tensions in the South China Sea and reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace, stability, maritime security as well as freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea.”

The top diplomats also “stressed the importance of the collective commitments of ASEAN member states and China to peace, stability, maritime security and mutual trust in the region, and the need to create conditions conducive for the peaceful settlement of disputes.”

The ASEAN ministers “agreed to intensify consultations with China” on “the full and effective implementation of the DOC in its entirety,” particularly the Articles 4 and 5, which aim to curb provocative actions in the South China Sea. The consultations should also cover the early conclusion of the COC, they added, as they “tasked our senior officials to follow up on this matter.”

“So there's agreement in ASEAN that we should clarify the actions that we can term as escalating tension,” Jose said. “There's broad support for the TAP among ASEAN countries.”

Experts, however, believe the TAP will not work without China's consent.

China is the “object” of the TAP, maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal explained in an interview with Rappler. (READ: Philippines' 'triple action plan' without China?)

“But China has already said that it will not abide by a moratorium...so where else will that go? If you're talking about effectively stopping or preventing China from changing the status quo, clearly it's not going to work because of that statement,” Batongbacal said. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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