South East Asian Headlines & Breaking News

Philippine Senate Passes Resolution Condemning Beijing’s South China Sea ‘Incursions

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Yesterday, the Philippine Senate voted unanimously to adopt a resolution condemning China for its “continued harassment” of Filipino fishermen and “incursions” into Philippine-claimed waters in the contested South China Sea.

The resolution, a merged version of separate resolutions drafted by Sen. Risa Hontiveros and Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, comes amid renewed frictions in the South China Sea, where China’s expansive “nine-dash line” claim cuts off large swathes of waters claimed by the Philippines.

The Senate resolution also urged President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s administration “to take appropriate action in asserting and securing” the country’s sovereign rights, initially through dialogue with Beijing. If that does not succeed in stemming the Chinese behavior, it requested that the Department of Foreign Affairs pursue a number of avenues. These included bringing international attention to China’s violation of a 2016 arbitral ruling in the Philippines’ favor, attempting to rally multilateral support for the implementation of the ruling, and filing a resolution at the United National General Assembly calling out the Chinese aggression.

“This bipartisan effort tells the Filipino people that when it comes to matters of national sovereignty, we will never be bullied into submission,” Hontiveros said in a statement after the passage of the resolution. “The fight against China’s reckless behavior in the West Philippine Sea does not end here,” she added.

For more than a decade, Chinese ships have attempted to assert claims up to the “nine-dash line” by making incursions into the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), where they have harassed Philippine vessels and chased fishermen away from disputed atolls and reefs. Beijing has also built a raft of artificial islands on features in the Spratly Islands.

The situation has seemingly worsened since just before Marcos took office in June 2022. Since then, his administration has gone to much greater lengths than its predecessor to publicize Beijing’s aggressive deployments of coast guard and maritime militia vessels into Philippine-claimed waters, and has ramped up its patrols, sorties, and overflights of disputed areas.

During his second state of the union speech last week, in a statement that clearly referred to the South China Sea, Marcos vowed that the country’s territory would remain “intact and inviolable.” Unlike the Senate, however, the Philippine leader also has the challenge of maintaining stable relations with China, which imposes limits on how far he can go in speaking out about Beijing’s actions.

Ahead of a state visit to China in January, Marcos pledged to open “a new chapter in our comprehensive, strategic cooperation” and said that he and Chinese leader Xi Jinping would “seek to resolve” maritime and territorial disputes “to the mutual benefit of our two countries.”

Interestingly, Rappler reported that the resolution was amended to remove a demand that the Department of Foreign Affairs bring China’s actions before the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), after some staff expressed worries that this would further inflame the situation. Instead, the resolution mentioned the UNGA as one of five potential avenues for redress should China’s aggressive actions continue.

Despite this last-minute change, the resolution reflects the increasing salience of the South China Sea disputes in Philippine politics, such that even critics of Marcos, including Sen. Hontiveros, are using it as a line of attack.

Marcos was dismissive when speaking to reporters after the resolution’s passage. “Of course, the senator is free to file whatever resolution she wants,” the Philippine leader said, referring to Hontiveros. “But I do not know how that will translate to any action that will reach the United Nations General Assembly.”

-The Diplomat

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