South China Sea Dispute: PHL President Elect Rodrigo Duterte Befriending China

Amidst the South China tensions and spat between China and other nations, it appears that soon to be elected Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines wants a different turn out of things. According to reports, Duterte is gunning for friendly relations with China instead of military pressure and intimidation as many accuse its ally, the United States. Is it a path towards peace or a sell out?


China is not backing down when it comes to its territorial ambitions in the South China Sea and many political analysts see the situation blowing up if such tensions cannot be addressed. The United States has been challenging China’s claims while also conducting military exercises with allies in an effort to show might and deter Chinese activities in the region.

This time, it appears presumptive Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte is looking into a different approach to the situation. Duterte reportedly said that he wanted friendly relations with China and he would be willing to engage in direct talks with the country over South China Sea’s territorial row. As a seemingly likely indication of his planned approach, Duterte met with China’s ambassador to the Philippines, Zhao Jianhua on Monday.

“(Mr Zhao) stressed that China and the Philippines are good neighbors, partners and relatives, and the Chinese side is looking forward to working with the Philippine side to properly deal with the differences, deepen traditional friendship and promote mutually beneficial cooperation, so as to bring the bilateral ties forward,” TODAY quoted the Chinese embassy in Manila in a statement it released to the publication.

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Zhao also congratulated Duterte on his supposed win in the presidential elections. According to reports, the two  had “friendly and sincere exchanges on the development of China-Philippines relations.”

However, the decision does not sit well with everyone. According to Senator Antonio Trillanes 4th, Duterte could be slapped with an impeachment complaint especially following his statement that the Philippines already lost its claim to the contested Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.

“As President of the country, he [Duterte] should be protecting the territorial integrity of the Philippines,” The Manila Times quoted the senator. Trillanes became a backchannel negotiator with China in 2012 as part of the initiative to address tensions in the shoal in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea). Trillanes also added that there is no basis for Duterte’s claim that the Philippines lost already.

Also read: South China Sea Dispute: A Court Arbitration Briefer

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  • britbob

    Effective sovereignty Argument: A case that supports this view of effective sovereignty is relevant is the Minquiers and Ecrehos Case, France/UK of 17th November 1953. In this case both the UK and France had requested the ICJ to determine which country held sovereignty over the uninhabited Islets and rocks in the Minquiers and Ecrehos. France had claimed sovereignty because of historic sovereignty going back to the Dutchy of Normandy in the 11th century while the UK claimed that Jersey had historically exercised administrational jurisdiction on them. The Court decided that in the absence of valid treaty provisions, they considered the argument that the British government has exercised effective control to be superior, so that sovereignty control over the Minquiers and Ecrehos belonged to the UK. (the UK had protested to the French government when a French national had intended to build a house on one of the islats and any deaths occurring on the islets were dealt with by inquests held on Jersey). ICJ Minquiers & Ecrehos Judgment, 17 Nov 1953, p28, paras 6 & 12.

    No delimitation between states with opposite or adjacent coasts may be affected unilaterally by one of those states. For some interesting judgments on territorial seas and to gain an understanding as to how the world court deals with such disputes: