Statement on Coral Conspiracy and Philippines-China Relations Forum

September 23, 2023

OPENING STATEMENT

Prof. Anna Malindog-Uy

To my fellow panel of speakers, members of the media, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, I extend my warm greetings to all.

In recent headlines, we have witnessed the Philippines’ intention to initiate legal proceedings against China concerning allegations of environmentally damaging activities, notably coral reef harvesting, within the South China Sea. Specifically, these concerns revolve around the Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal, both of which fall within the Philippines’ claimed exclusive economic zone. The intended venue for these proceedings is the Permanent Court of Arbitration or the PCA.

In light of this, I firmly believe that it is imperative for the current Philippine administration, led by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., to engage in a profound contemplation and exercise utmost caution before embarking on yet another legal confrontation with China through the PCA.

Foremost among our considerations should be a thorough evaluation of the potential adverse consequences that may arise from such a course of action. Equally vital is for the present leadership in the Philippines, under the presidency of Marcos Jr., to meticulously assess whether the disadvantages outweigh the prospective benefits inherent in pursuing a legal case against China. This evaluation pivots on whether such legal proceedings would genuinely accrue concrete advantages for our nation or whether they could be construed as a strategic maneuver designed to publicly castigate China on the global stage, possibly influenced by external actors or forces seeking to challenge China’s political influence and global reputation.

Before initiating a second case against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), the current Philippine government must consider a host of crucial factors that carry profound implications. It is paramount to acknowledge that international legal proceedings are intricate and protracted endeavors laden with substantial financial burdens for the Philippines.

Engaging in litigation at an international court necessitates a substantial commitment of both financial and human resources. The Philippines would be obliged to earmark a substantial portion of its financial reserves to cover legal expenses, secure the services of expert advisors, and actively participate in the legal proceedings. This, undeniably, presents a significant drawback for a nation like the Philippines, which faces constraints in allocating resources to such complex international legal pursuits.

Furthermore, when contrasted with China, the Philippines finds itself in a comparatively less economically developed position. It is imperative to recognize that the nation grapples with a multitude of pressing domestic challenges, including financial and economic hardships such as soaring oil and gas prices, a flourishing rice crisis, escalating costs of essential commodities and services (including electricity), and widespread allegations of corruption. Additionally, there are acute concerns regarding the preservation of peace and order, encompassing issues like the fight against illegal drugs, local insurgencies, and a surging crime rate.

These multifaceted domestic challenges demand the undivided attention, allocation of resources, and implementation of effective solutions by the present administration. Rather than channeling an exorbitant amount of financial resources and time into initiating another legal confrontation with China, redirecting these resources towards addressing pressing domestic issues, such as poverty alleviation, healthcare enhancement, education advancement, infrastructure development, and modernization of the agricultural sector, holds the potential to catalyze economic growth and enhance social well-being.

Nevertheless, the decision to commence legal proceedings at the PCA against China appears to be a diversionary tactic from the paramount domestic issues confronting the nation. These critical challenges continue to loom large, awaiting substantial solutions, and regrettably, they remain inadequately addressed despite their profound impact on the country’s prosperity and stability.

Furthermore, initiating a second legal case against China has the potential to inflame the already delicate diplomatic relations between the two countries. It could further escalate the existing political and geopolitical tensions that simmer between the Philippines and China, with far-reaching consequences.

Such escalation could cast a shadow over the bilateral trade, investment, and cooperation that the Philippines shares with China, a pivotal economic and the largest trading partner of the Philippines. It’s important to emphasize that any disruptions in these vital trade relations could inflict considerable harm on Philippine exporters and industries that rely heavily on the Chinese market. The ramifications of this could place the Philippines in an economically precarious position, with consequences that reach well beyond the sphere of diplomacy.

Moreover, it is worth noting that the Philippines could encounter diplomatic isolation if it fails to secure strong support from other regional or international players for its legal case against China for the second time around. This risk arises from the potential destabilization of the SCS and the broader regional security framework, an outcome that regional countries are keen to avoid in a region where collaboration is essential for addressing shared challenges, such as maritime security, cooperation, and environmental concerns. A strained relationship between the Philippines and China resulting from another possible lawsuit at the PCA filed by the Philippines could be viewed by other regional countries as counterproductive. Consequently, such isolation would curtail the Philippines’ capacity to garner political backing for its cause.

Conclusion

To conclude, given all these considerations, it is indeed important for the Philippines to ponder and carefully weigh these disadvantages against the potential benefits of going head-on against its neighbor, China, for the second time.

Filling a case against China again at the PCA will be an imprudent and unwise move for the Philippines, which faces financial and economic challenges. The current Philippine government must weigh the potential drawbacks vis-à-vis financial costs, diplomatic implications, and other domestic priorities. Ultimately, the decision to pursue another case against China at the PCA should be pondered on carefully, considering the Philippines’ long-term national interests and well-being. Note that the Philippines’ filing another international case against China carries political and economic costs.

Rather than filing a case, it is more prudent and pragmatic for the Philippines to engage China diplomatically and negotiate to find a resolution without resorting to legal action. International litigation should be seen as a last resort when all dispute and conflict resolution avenues have been exhausted.

The Philippines must weigh its long-term strategic goals, diplomatic objectives, and economic priorities to make an informed choice. Still, the best way forward for the Philippines is the path toward dialogue, negotiation, diplomacy, and regional cooperation as opposed to confrontation and lawfare tactics vis-à-vis China.

Instead, the Philippines and China should pursue maritime cooperation, a critical and multifaceted aspect of international relations that encompasses collaboration, coordination, and partnership among countries in the domain of oceans and seas. Maritime cooperation between the two countries could play a pivotal role in addressing their conflict of interests and differences over the contested waters of the SCS, and it may offer greater opportunities that both sides could benefit tangibly.

Ladies and gentlemen, friends and colleagues, in a rapidly changing world where the oceans and seas are critical to our shared future, maritime cooperation serves as a bridge connecting nations with common interests and responsibilities. It fosters mutual understanding, promotes peaceful coexistence, and empowers countries to collectively address the complex challenges and opportunities that our oceans present. By working together, nations can harness the vast potential of the maritime realm for the benefit of present and future generations while safeguarding the health and vitality of our global oceans.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attention and a pleasant day to all!

 

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