CNN Philippines Staff
July 13, 2016
- Chito Sta. Romana, fomer ABC News Beijing Bureau Chief, believes that the Arbitral Tribunal's ruling is both a challenge and an opportunity for the Philippines. He explained it is a challenge in the sense that Manila will have to find a way to make Beijing comply with the Tribunal's decision. For him, the opportunity lies in the new administration's signal of a less adversarial and more conciliatory approach with China.
Question: How does this ruling affect relations between China anad the Philippines?
Chito Sta Romana: It’s a challenge and an opportunity. A challenge because how to convert this legal document – the legal advantage – into reality. How to convince the Chinese to accept this and to abide by this ruling. But the opportunity is that we are facing the Chinese now with a new administration. The new administration has signalled a less adversarial, more concillatory approach to China – so, that may work in the Philippines’ favor. However, expect the Chinese right now to take a hard line. Expect a barrage of media, diplomatic… a lot of hot words in the coming few days as they take a defiant stand. This is a bit reminiscent of what happened in the Tiananmen Square, when the whole world practically was condemning China, and the Chinese took their position. Until eventually, there was an economic boom and the situation turned. So, I think we’l see more of that – the Chinese will pay a price to their image but it will create ripples in Chinese society that could eventually work in our favor.
Question: We’re seeing that hard sense already. They’re saying that the panel has no jurisdiction and its decision null and void, did you expect this? What do you think is gonna happen?
Chito Sta Romana: I think they wer expecting the decision in May, as it originally was supposed to come out. So they have launched this media and diplomatic campaign since then. It’s been going on and is now on overdrive. And tomorrow, I think we’ll see more. I think it has gone up to the Chinese President now. The key here is how the Chinese have framed this, it affects the survival of the regime. They framed it as a defense of their sovereignty, and this is actually the basis. They don’t have elections in China but they use this as the basis for uniting the country and staying in power for the Communist Party. I think it will take a while for them to climb down, the storm has to pass, so to speak… before we can see some manifestations to climb down to save face.
Question: What should be do now then, how should the Duterte administration handle this? How should we keep equal relations with China?
Chito Sta Romana: I think his idea of not taunting the Chinese, not to flaunt and how to remain humble in the face of victory will help in terms of renewing. We’ve actually had very abnormal ties. First, the idea is to have normal ties to be able to talk to each other. Generally, you have to engage the Chinese, but you also have to have deterrence. In other words, in case there is any military adventurism in the part of the Chinese, you must be able to defend yourself. But on the other hand, you can soften it by engaging with them. If you look at the past admininstrations, during the Arroyo administration, there was a lot of cooperation with China, but it blew off in scandals of corruption. And then, after Scarborough, everything went to the other side of confrontation, adversarial. It’s how to balance that. How to be able to talk about differences with China and get along. This is the balance that we have to seek in the next few months.
Question: What do you think about Foreign Secretary Perefcto Yasay’s statement that the Philippines is willing to share resources in the disputed South China Sea even if it wins the case? This is before case results are announced.
Chito Sta Romana: If you look at the portion of Scarborough Shoal, it’s very interesting how the court decided. They couldn’t decide on the issue of sovereignty, they did say it’s a rock, a high-tide elevation. But then they said that the Filipinos have traditional fishing rights, just like the Chinese. So, the Chinese coast guards can no longer legally deprive or no longer drive away the Filipino fishermen, but neither can we drive away the Chinese fishermen. So there’s gonna be sharing out there in the fishing resources, according to the tribunal.
Question: So this is a big victory for us but there are many problems arising still. For example, with the fishermen – a lot of illegal fishing activities going on. What will we be seeing now, given this ruling?
Chito Sta Romana: We’re to look at two things right away. One is what happens to our fishermen. When the Chinese drive them away and the Chinese continue to reclaim the Scarborough Shoal – if they were to do that they would alienate the Duterte administration. I think the top priority right now is to win over, woo the Duterte administration into direct talks and negotiations. So this actually gonna be the challenge in the next few months.